Ultrasound: Uses, Side Effects, Procedure, Results


Ultrasound is a diagnostic medical test that uses high-frequency sound waves, also called ultrasound waves, to bounce off structures in the body and create an image. The test is often simply called an ultrasound or ultrasound.

Ultrasound uses a device called a transducer to send ultrasonic waves and listen for echoes. The computer converts the ultrasonic waves into an image. A trained technician can see, measure, and identify structures in an image. The images are then read by a specially trained healthcare provider to help diagnose illness.

Illustration by Emily Roberts, Get Drug Information

The purpose of the test

An ultrasound image can show the size and shape of structures, good and bad, within the body. The harder and denser the tissue (the bone will be the harder and denser), the more it reflects the sound waves to the transducer and the brighter the resulting image becomes.

Ultrasound is helpful in evaluating the size, shape, and density of tissues to help diagnose certain conditions. Traditionally, ultrasound is excellent for examining the abdomen without cutting it. In particular, abdominal ultrasound is often used to diagnose gallbladder or gallstones , kidney or kidney stones, liver disease, appendicitis , ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancy, uterine or fibroid tumors, and other conditions .

An ultrasound is most often used to monitor the development of the uterus and fetus during pregnancy. It can also be used to evaluate glands, breast tumors, joint conditions, bone diseases, testicular tumors, or to guide needles during a biopsy.

Ultrasound can also recognize blood flow or fluid flow. The computer can, in particular, recognize the fluid flowing to or from the sensor and uses color overlays on the image to show the direction of the flow. Very hard and dense tissues or empty spaces, such as gas-filled organs, do not conduct ultrasound waves and therefore cannot be seen on an ultrasound.

Ultrasound is often used before moving on to imaging technologies that can cause further complications. A computed tomography (CT) scan exposes you to significant levels of radiation. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses an extremely strong magnet to capture an image. The strength of an MRI magnet can limit its use in patients with metallic bodies (such as staples).

Risks and contraindications.

An ultrasound is a noninvasive imaging test with no known complications. Ultrasonic waves are believed to be harmless and the test is usually performed externally on the surface of the skin. Ultrasound has no known risks or complications when used topically on the surface of the skin .

Although the energy of ultrasonic waves can irritate or destroy tissues with prolonged exposure, the computer modulates the power of sound and a trained technician uses techniques that minimize exposure time and angles. So ultrasound is the safest imaging technique.

Before the test

Medical professionals often order ultrasound as a first-line test, usually in conjunction with blood tests. Be sure to ask your doctor if there are any special instructions before the ultrasound.

In an emergency, the ultrasound is usually done right away. If you plan to get tested in the future, find out if you should eat or drink before the test. For example, healthcare professionals often ask you to fast (do not eat or drink) for six hours before an abdominal ultrasound to look at your gallbladder, but advise you to drink a few glasses of water and not urinate before an ultrasound. of the bladder.


The ultrasound usually takes no more than 30 minutes. In most cases, it is important to arrive approximately 15 minutes before the exam for the admissions process.

If the test requires drinking fluids to keep your bladder full, you may need to drink water before the test if your bladder is not full enough. This can happen after the technician tries the test for the first time.

After the technician has received all the images, they will consult with a radiologist (a healthcare professional trained to read images) to make sure no other images are required.

In most cases, a technician cannot give you any results. After the radiologist interprets the ultrasound images, the report is available to your doctor.


Ultrasound is done in most imaging centers, hospitals, and some obstetric offices. An ultrasound machine is a bit like a computer with a microphone attached, almost like a karaoke machine.

The ultrasound machine is usually rolled up close to the bed.

What to wear

You should use something that can be easily removed. In most cases, you will only need to expose the skin that the specialist needs to access. For example, an abdominal ultrasound can be done with pants and a shirt. You only need to lift your shirt to expose your tummy.

In the case of a transvaginal ultrasound, you will have to undress under debris, even remove your underwear.

Food and drink

As noted above, the reason for the ultrasound will determine whether you need to fast or drink fluids or not.

Cost and health insurance

Ultrasound is a relatively inexpensive imaging test. It is covered by most insurances and may require prior authorization depending on the reason the healthcare provider requested the ultrasound.

A 3-D or 4-D ultrasound is a random test that some parents perform during pregnancy. The 3D image shows a 3D rendering of a baby, while a 4D image refers to an animated video of a baby in the womb captured over time. These are known as recreational tests and are not covered by most health insurance plans.

During the exam

Here's what to expect before, during, and after your ultrasound.

Preliminary test

Plan to arrive a little before your appointment so that you can register and complete all the required paperwork. If you are asked to follow specific food and drink instructions, you will be asked to confirm that you did.

Throughout the test

The ultrasound is performed by a technician directly at the patient's bedside. The full ultrasound will most likely take less than 30 minutes.

The technician will ask you to undress to expose the test area and lie down on the bed.

The technician will coat the transducer with a conductive gel that feels like a gel-like lubricant. Whenever possible, depending on the tools and supplies available, the gel will be warm. The technician will then pass the transducer over the skin, sometimes with strong pressure. Sometimes the pressure can cause mild discomfort.

By using the sensor to pinpoint areas of interest, the technician will use a computer to capture images and can use a mouse to drag lines across the screen. The lines help measure size as a virtual criterion.

Post test

When the ultrasound is complete, the technician will usually give you a towel to clean off the conductive gel. Once the technician confirms that all required images have been taken, you are free to dress freely. There are no special instructions or side effects.

interpretation of results

It only takes a radiologist a few minutes to interpret most ultrasound results. The results will describe what is shown in the images and what can be gleaned from these findings. This can mean different things depending on the area of the body being examined.

The results will generally be sent to your healthcare provider to share with you. If you do not receive a response, please contact us. If necessary, you can also request a copy of the radiologist's report and even a disk with original images.

Get the word of drug information

Ultrasound is one of the most non-invasive diagnostic medical tests. It is a safe option for patients who need to know what is going on inside their body. If imaging is needed, ask your healthcare professional if ultrasound can be used.

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