When most of us hear the term “ultrasound,” we immediately think of the scans performed during pregnancy to check the baby’s gender and health and to predict an accurate due date. But while prenatal scans are one of the most common uses of ultrasounds, they’re not the only use. In fact, ultrasounds are widely used in many other areas of medicine, both to diagnose medical problems and to help manage their treatment. At DOCCS, we use state-of-the-art ultrasound technology to ensure our patients get the most accurate results, no matter why their scan is being performed.
Ultrasounds use special sound waves to create clear images of organs and other tissues inside your body. Unlike X-rays and CT scans, ultrasounds don’t use any ionizing radiation, so they’re safe enough to use even during pregnancy. The way an ultrasound works to create images is sort of like the sonar used to identify objects underwater. Sound waves are emitted from the handheld ultrasound device. Those waves penetrate your skin without causing any pain or harm to your body.
Inside the body, the waves bounce off organs and other structures, creating a sort of “echo energy” that’s captured by the ultrasound device as the energy bounces back. The device measures the amount of energy that bounces back and transmits those measurements to the ultrasound computer, which uses the information to create images. The images are visible on a monitor during your scan, allowing the technician to conduct the scan with far more accuracy and precision. Plus, the images can be stored for later review by a doctor. Because of the way the ultrasound works, an ultrasound scan can capture video images of internal processes in addition to still images.
Aside from prenatal exams, ultrasounds are used a lot to evaluate organs and other soft tissues. Some of their most common applications include:
diagnosis of problems affecting organs like the liver, kidneys, ovaries, uterus, thyroid, testicles and gallbladder
examinations of the heart, including their use during cardiac stress tests to looks for signs of heart damage or disease
after a mammogram to provide additional information about an abnormal area of tissue
to evaluate circulation in blood vessels, including the carotid arteries that supply blood to your brain
to monitor a person’s health after a heart attack or other serious medical event
to monitor the progress of a medical treatment
to detect and diagnose soft tissue injuries
to guide some types of medical procedures like spinal injections and some biopsies
Ultrasound waves cannot penetrate bones or gas-filled spaces like the intestines. X-rays or other scans will be used to diagnose problems in these areas.
Ultrasound scans are performed right in our office. Because they’re painless, you won’t need anesthesia or sedation, and you can leave right after your scan. During your scan, you’ll lie on a padded exam table while the technician passes the transducer over your skin. A water-based gel will be applied to your skin first to help the transducer make better contact with it. Some scans are performed transvaginally using a special wand-shaped transducer that’s inserted into your vagina.
While the scan is painless, you might have a little discomfort when the handheld transducer is pressed into your skin. Pressing firmly in some areas enables the technician to get the clearest images possible. If the scan is being performed in a sensitive area or on an area that’s already sore, you might have some brief discomfort during that part of the exam. Depending on which area of your body is being examined, you might need to hold your breath for a few seconds during your scan. Holding your breath gently lifts your lungs up and out of the way to make it easier to scan specific organs and tissues in your chest and belly area. Most scans take a half-hour, but some may take longer depending on what’s being scanned. Schedule your ultrasound today!