While ultrasound imaging (sonography) is well-known for checking the health of an unborn baby inside the womb, it is actually quite useful to health care providers seeking to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Ultrasound images are captured in real-time, allowing movement of the body’s organs as well as blood through vessels to be easily seen. Some common reasons for ultrasound testing include:
- Evaluating blood flow
- Diagnosing gallbladder problems
- Checking for blood clots
- Diagnosing thyroid conditions
- Diagnosing kidney problems
A trained ultrasound imaging professional (sonographer) presses a small, hand-held device (transducer) against the area being studied and moves it as needed to capture the images. The transducer sends sound waves into your body, collects the ones that bounce back and sends them to a computer, which creates the images.
How to prepare for your ultrasound exam
For most ultrasound exams, no preparation is needed. However, there are a few ultrasound exams that require you to take some simple steps in advance. These exams and instructions include, but are not limited to:
- Abdominal, evaluating the liver and gallbladder – Do not eat or drink anything 6-8 hours prior to the scheduled exam. You may take medications with a small drink of water.
- Pelvic – There are no dietary restrictions. However, you must drink 32 ounces of water 30 minutes before your scheduled exam. You should not empty your bladder once you have started drinking
- Abdominal & Pelvic – Do not eat anything 6-8 hours prior to the scheduled exam. However, you must drink 32 ounces of water 30 minutes prior to the exam. You should not empty your bladder once you have started drinking.
- Renal Artery Doppler – Do not eat anything 6-8 hours prior to the exam. You should also not smoke or chew gum
Your health care provider will let you know in advance if there are any specific preparations you need to take before your exam.
Your ultrasound appointment: What to expect?
- Depending on the part of the body being examined, you may be asked to partially disrobe, and possibly wear a gown during the exam.
- You will be asked to lie on an exam table in a manner that makes the area in question easily accessible. For most exams, this means lying flat on your back.
- Your ultrasound technologist will apply a water-based gel to the skin over the area being examined to prevent air pockets between the handheld transducer and the skin. Air pockets can block the sound waves needed to produce a clear image.
- Ultrasound exams are typically painless, however you may experience mild discomfort as the ultrasound technologist guides the transducer over your body, especially if you are required to have a full bladder for the study being performed.
- Most ultrasound exams last from around 30 minutes to an hour.
- When your exam is complete, a doctor trained to interpret your imaging studies, a radiologist, will analyze the image and send a report to your doctor. Your doctor will share your result with you.