Last updated: September 16th, 2023

Sample ultrasound/sonography photo.

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a safe and non-invasive way to look inside the body. This can help doctors diagnose a number of different symptoms as well as examine babies that are still in the womb.

Unlike X-rays, ultrasound scans do not use radiation. Instead, they use a transducer to emit ultrasound waves which go through soft tissue such as the skin and fluids and bounces back when it encounters denser materials such as organs and fetuses.

The denser the object, the more ultrasound waves bounce back, thus building a decent picture of what lies underneath

Why get an ultrasound?

Ultrasounds are generally recommended by doctors for a variety of reasons. While pregnancy is a typical usage scenario for ultrasound, it can also be used in other circumstances.

Doctors may recommend getting an ultrasound in these cases

  • Pregnancy
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Blood flow issues
  • Lumps
  • Thyroid gland problems
  • Genital or prostate problems
  • Joint inflammation
  • Bone disease

Because ultrasound is used to peer inside the body, it can also be used in a number of other situations. Your doctor will recommend the usage of ultrasound when this is warranted.

When should you get an ultrasound?

Typical symptoms which may require an ultrasound will vary according to the treatment being sought.

If you suspect pregnancy, your doctor may run an ultrasound to determine whether you’re pregnant or not. This procedure allows medical professionals to look at the uterus to see whether a fetus is there or not. Read more on pregnancy ultrasound.

Your doctor may also ask you to undertake an ultrasound test if you are experiencing any pain or swelling, which diagnosis requires a view of internal organs including (but not limited to):

  • Bladder
  • Eyes
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Blood vessels

An ultrasound may also be recommended to examine the extent of hernia-related issues, especially in cases of umbilical or inguinal hernia. The same procedure may be repeated post-surgery to ensure the hernia surgery has been successful.

Ultrasound procedure

Depending on the doctor’s diagnosis, an ultrasound procedure may vary a little. For certain scans like a gallbladder ultrasound, you may be asked to refrain from eating or drinking for 6 hours. On the other hand, a pelvic ultrasound, for example, might require the bladder to be full during the procedure.

In any case, the procedure is the same regardless of how full or empty your bladder is. A gel is first applied to your skin directly where the scan will take place. The gel is there to create a nice seal between the skin and the transducer, avoiding air pockets that might distort the ultrasound image.

The sonographer will then press the transducer (which looks like a big pen) directly on the skin. Soundwaves, which you will not feel, will travel through your skin and back to the transducer which will interpret the echos to create an image.

Notably, some transducers need to be placed inside the body including endovaginal transducers (placed inside the vagina), endorectal transducer (placed inside the rectum), and transesophageal transducers (placed inside the throat).

As with all medical procedures, it is very important to follow your doctor’s directions to ensure the best results.

Pharmacies providing ultrasound services

Clinics providing ultrasound services

Related links

Pregnancy Ultrasound 4D Ultrasound
Personal Health Services Directory