Also known as sonography or diagnostic medical sonography

Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to examine soft tissue parts of the body.

As it does not use any radiation, it is very safe. It is also painless which is another big advantage. 

Common areas to ultrasound are:

  • abdomen
  • breast
  • kidneys 
  • pelvis  (e.g. ovaries, tubes and uterus wall thickness)
  • heart - this is a special ultrasound known as an ECHO
  • doppler USS - assesses blood flow in certain arteries, veins etc
  • pregnancy - to check growth, anatomy and position of a growing baby before birth
  • joints - shoulder injuries.

What are the benefits of having an ultrasound scan?

An ultrasound is quicker, safer and easier to do than more intensive tests such as CT scans. Often an ultrasound will be enough for your doctor to make a diagnosis and plan any next steps or treatments. 

What to expect

Depending on the area to be examined, the examination will take approximately 20 minutes. You will be fully awake and can often see the images on a screen. 

Most times you do not need to do any preparation before coming to the hospital or radiology service. If you are having a bladder, kidney or early pregnancy ultrasound, you may need to drink one or two large glasses of water and not go to the toilet. This helps fill your bladder and makes it easier to see certain areas.

Do I need to bring anything with me?

If you have had any ultrasounds before and have the films at home, bring these with you. It can be helpful for the radiologist to compare findings with previous results. 

During the examination

You will usually be asked to lie down on an examination couch and told to lie on your side or back. A warm gel is used to improve conduction through the skin by the probe (a small hand held instrument) and to help the probe to glide over the skin as it is moved over the area. By changing the angle and position of the probe, the sonographer (ultrasound technician) or radiologist (medical doctor specialising in imaging) is able to take 'pictures' and identify changes to the soft tissues inside our bodies.

After care

Once finished, you can get back to normal activities straight away. A report will be sent to your doctor or hospital clinic and you can arrange a follow up appointment to discuss the results.

Learn more

Ultrasound Mayo Clinic Health System, 2014
Radiology services Auckland Radiology Group
Ultrasound - Tests and Procedures Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2015 

Credits: Editorial team.