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Ultrasound: Pelvic, Pregnancy, and Abdominal

What is an ultrasound?

An ultrasound test (sonogram) is a painless exam that uses sound waves to check a pregnancy or to get images of body organs. An ultrasound can give your doctor almost the same information as an x-ray, but it doesn’t expose you to harmful radiation.

There are 3 types of ultrasound: pelvic, pregnancy, and abdominal. Each test takes about 1 hour.

How does it work?

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of parts of your body. A small handheld device called a transducer (trans-DOO-sir) sends the sound waves. The sound waves pass through your body tissues and send back echoes. The transducer picks up these echoes. They appear as an image on a small TV screen.

Body fluids, which don’t reflect many sound waves, look black on the screen. Bone reflects many more sound waves and looks white on the screen. A camera can photograph the screen image so your doctor can study it.

Pelvic ultrasound

A pelvic ultrasound is used to check female reproductive organs. It can find fibroid tumors, ovarian growths, cysts, and problems with fallopian tubes.

Some facilities require that you have a full bladder for your test. Please check with the site where your ultrasound is scheduled. In an exam room, you will lie on a table. A gel will be spread on your lower belly. The transducer will be moved across your belly. The gel helps the sound waves pass through your belly.

When the ultrasound is complete, the technologist will make sure he or she has all the information the doctor will need. Sometimes more images are needed.

Transvaginal ultrasound

Sometimes, the technologist will ask the patient to place a small transducer into her vagina. This device contains a tiny transmitter for more complete diagnosis. This is called transvaginal (trans-VAJ-in-ol) ultrasound. It is used to check the pelvic organs or a very early pregnancy. It is safe, accurate, and does not hurt. The technologist will explain the procedure before she examines you.

Pregnancy ultrasound

Pregnancy ultrasound is used to measure the growth and development of your baby.
Pregnancy ultrasound may be scheduled several times during your pregnancy for any of these reasons:
  • To diagnose an early pregnancy
  • To learn the age of the baby
  • To check for problems with your baby
  • To keep track of your baby’s growth
  • To find the cause of vaginal bleeding
  • To learn the position of your baby

When you arrive in the exam room, you will lie on a table. A gel will be spread on your belly. The transducer will be moved across your belly. The gel helps the sound waves pass through your belly. You will probably be able to see your baby’s image on the screen.

When the ultrasound is complete, the technologist will ask you to wait a few minutes to make sure he or she has all the information the doctor will need. Sometimes, more images are needed.

Your partner can be with you during the test to see the image of your baby.

Sometimes ultrasound shows the sex of the baby, but not always. The baby’s genitals may not be visible because of the baby’s size or position. If you do not want to know the sex of your baby, be sure to tell the ultrasound technologist.

If you would like a video of your pregnancy ultrasound, bring a blank DVD with you. The technologist may be able to tape 2 minutes of your baby at the end of your test.

Abdominal ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound is used to detect disorders or diseases of organs inside the abdomen, including the liver, gall bladder, bile ducts, and pancreas.
The day before the test, you may be asked to follow a special diet. You will not be allowed to eat or drink anything on the day of the exam.
When you arrive for the exam, you will put on a hospital gown. In an exam room, you will lie on a table. A gel will be spread on your belly. The transducer will be moved across your belly. The gel helps the sound waves pass through your belly.

You will be asked to stay very still. When the test is complete, the technologist or doctor will make sure he or she has all the information needed. Sometimes, more images are needed.

After the test, you may return to your normal diet unless your doctor tells you differently.

Are there any risks?

Ultrasound testing has been in use for nearly 30 years without any known risks. There is no direct evidence that either the baby or mother is injured by pelvic, pregnancy, or abdominal ultrasound. However, ultrasound should be done only when needed. For example, don’t ask for an ultrasound just to learn your baby’s sex.
If you have questions about your ultrasound, talk to your doctor.

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