There are many uses for ultrasounds, such as evaluating how a fetus develops in a pregnant woman or detecting problems in the liver and abdomen.
Ultrasounds can also help diagnose infections and inflammation during biopsies. To learn more about how ultrasounds work and the different types of ultrasounds, continue reading below!
How Do Ultrasounds Work?
Ultrasounds, which are also known as sonograms, use high-frequency sound waves to create an image. The human ear cannot hear the sound that the small hand-held probe, also known as a transducer, emits.
The sound waves travel through the tissue and other fluids, and it bounces back to the transducer once it hits an object. For example, if your doctor schedules you for an ultrasound of your gallbladder to check for gallstones, a technician will place the transducer over that area.
The sound from the device will travel through your body, and it will bounce back if there are stones present. If there are no gallstones in your gallbladder, then the sound will continue through the gallbladder, and nothing will bounce back.
The soundwaves that reflect create the image that your sonographer will see on their monitor. Ultrasounds are usually non-invasive, meaning that they occur outside of the body.
There are invasive scans that require the insertion of the transducer into the body. Those types of procedures are for pelvic or prostate exams.
Different Types of Transducers
Ultrasound scans are not a one-size-fits-all type of scan; different transducers are used based on the type of exam you need to undergo. For example, you wouldn’t want your sonographer to use an external transducer for an exam that needs an internal probe.
The different types of internal transducers are:
- Endorectal transducer
- Endovaginal transducer
- Transesophageal transducer
The endorectal transducer is the type of probe used for prostate exams and rectal cancer exams and inserted into the rectum.
The endovaginal transducer is typically used for examining the uterus and ovaries of a woman. That type of transducer goes into the vagina. A transesophageal transducer goes into a patient’s mouth and down their throat to exam the esophagus and heart.
Uses For Ultrasounds
There are different types of ultrasound tests that doctors use to evaluate and diagnose any medical conditions that you may have. If you were to go to your doctor with symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting, abnormal lumps, or unexplainable pain, they would most likely refer you to get an ultrasound.
Your doctor typically orders abdomen scans if you are complaining of severe stomach pains. These scans will examine your bile ducts, spleen, kidneys, gallbladder, and large blood vessels to ensure there aren’t any growths or other issues.
Ultrasound pregnancy scans are used to check on fetal development. These scans make sure that the baby is developing correctly, determine the gender of the child, and check for any abnormalities. This type of procedure can also check the age and position of the baby.
If a woman were to complain to her doctor about pelvic pains or issues associated with her period, the doctor would most likely order a pelvic scan. These scans check for cysts, fibroids, or any other medical conditions that can appear in the reproductive system.
External Ultrasound Procedure
The technician, also known as a sonographer, applies a lubricating gel onto the skin and places the transducer against the lubricated area. You commonly see these types of ultrasounds with pregnant women to track the developing fetus.
The sonographer will place the lubricating gel on the patient’s lower abdomen area before using the transducer. Patients usually do not feel any pain or discomfort with external ultrasound procedures.
Internal Ultrasound Procedure
For more invasive procedures such as prostate exams, the transducer is covered with a latex cover and lubricating gel before inserting the probe into the rectum. Before these procedures, patients take medication to help reduce any pain associated with the exam.
These scans tend to be uncomfortable, but you should let your technician know if they are too unbearable and painful.
Are Ultrasounds Safe?
Ultrasound scans are generally very safe, even invasive ultrasound exams. You can look here to learn more about ultrasound exams. If you are allergic to latex, you should let your doctor know before they do an exam on you to prevent an allergic reaction.
Ultrasound exams use sound frequencies to create an image, not radiation. Radiation exposure is more commonly found in x-rays and CT scans. The risks associated with radiation exposure can damage your DNA. Radiation exposure can also potentially expose you to develop cancer.
What Happens After An Ultrasound?
These procedures only take between 20-50 minutes depending on the type of exam; external scans are usually the quickest since they are non-invasive. After the scan is complete, the sonographer will wipe off the gel and will leave the room to allow you to get dressed.
Depending on the type of exam, the sonographer cannot tell you what they saw. The results of the exam are then recorded and sent over to the doctor for them to review. After further review, your doctor will reach out to you to make a follow-up appointment.
Learn More About Ultrasounds
Ultrasounds are very safe exams that can help your doctor determine any issues without the use of radiation.
If you find this article useful and you are looking for more information about different ultrasound products and uses for ultrasounds, check out our Health section to learn more.