Tests and Procedures

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What is an ultrasound study?

An ultrasound study, or sonogram, is a medical test ordered by a doctor. A sonographer or doctor may perform the actual test. An ultrasound test is completely painless and, in most procedures, noninvasive because it is performed on the surface of the skin. Ultrasound is one of the safest medical tests available today.

What happens in an ultrasound exam?

The sonographer first applies an odorless, colorless gel to the skin over the body part to be examined. This gel helps conduct sound waves from the transmitting device, or transducer, down to the body parts that are the focus of the study. The sonographer then applies the transducer to the skin. As the transducer moves around on the skin, images of the various organs appear on a video monitor. The sonographer electronically stores the most diagnostically useful images and prints them for a radiologist to interpret. Your doctor receives the results and discusses them with you.

Where will my ultrasound take place?

You may go to the Radiology Department for your ultrasound exam, or if you are staying in the hospital, it will be performed in you room, if possible. The ultrasound rooms are much cooler than many patients would like because the ultrasound equipment must be kept cool to operate efficiently.

What are the different types of exams?

  • Abdomen: An ultrasound of your abdomen provides information about your pancreas, liver, gallbladder, aorta, kidneys, and spleen. This test will require that you have nothing to eat or drink for up to 8 hours prior to the test. This is necessary because eating and drinking produce gas in the bowel that blocks the ultrasound waves.
  • Pelvis: An ultrasound of the pelvis requires you to have a completely full bladder. The full bladder provides a sonographic “window” to fully visualize the pelvic organs.
  • Vascular: Your doctor orders vascular ultrasounds when he or she needs information about the veins and arteries that run throughout your body. You must remain very still and quiet during this exam so your sonographer can examine the very small vessels deep in your body and listen to the blood flow inside.
  • Obstetrical: Pregnancy ultrasounds are sometimes performed when the expectant mother is in the hospital. These are usually performed in the patient's room. If your doctor requests an evaluation by a perinatologist, a physician specializing in high-risk pregnancy, you will be transported by wheelchair to his office.
  • Guidance: Doctors also use ultrasound as a guidance tool. With procedures requiring placement of a needle, an ultrasound may help see into your body and ensure proper position.