What is diagnostic ultrasound?

Diagnostic ultrasound is sometimes referred to as ultrasonography or sonography. It is used in studying internal structures of the body. It works in a similar manner to sonar on a submarine that finds other ships.

Why is the procedure done? 

Diagnostic ultrasound is done to visualize internal structures and soft tissues of the body to aid in the diagnosis of disease. This technique allows the physician to study areas of the body that previously could not be studied without using a surgical procedure.

What organs can be imaged with ultrasound?  

The ultrasound procedure may be done on a single part of the body, such as the kidneys, or on multiple parts of the body. These areas may include the spleen, liver, stomach, gallbladder, kidneys, pancreas, brain, lymph nodes, heart and great vessels, and fetus. 

How is the procedure done? 

In ultrasonography, very high sound waves or frequencies (much higher than we can hear) are directed by a transducer toward the organ to be studied. A transducer is an electro-mechanical device that can change one form of energy into another. In ultrasound, electrical energy is converted into sound waves. The sound waves that come in contract with internal structures in the body are reflected back to the skin surface where they are picked up by the transducer. In turn, these ultrasonic waves are electronically converted to visual images (pictures) of the structure which is being studied. These pictures are displayed on a type of television screen called an oscilloscope. These pictures or images can then be photographed for storage and further study by a radiologist. 

Where is the procedure done? 

Ultrasound is most often a part of the Radiology Department. However, there are two special subdivisions known as echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) and obstetric ultrasound (study of placenta and fetus). These may be done in other areas of the hospital. Some physicians may have ultrasound equipment in their office. 

What is real-time ultrasound?  

Through technological advances, a multi-channel transducer has been developed. Up to this time, ultrasound has been done with a single transducer. The use of the multi-channel transducer allows the ultrasound technologist to observe and record movement of an organ within the body. These images or pictures are then recorded. A most important principle in real-time ultrasound is that movement can be observed and recorded as it is actually occurring. This has been a major breakthrough in the field of cardiology (study of the heart and great vessels). 

Is there any preparation for this procedure?  

Yes. Some exams require that you do not eat or drink eight (8) hours prior to your scan or that you come for your exam with a full bladder. This procedure may be done on an inpatient or an outpatient basis. There are no time constraints on the time of the day of whether the patient has or has not eaten. A gelatin or oil will then be placed on the skin to assist the transducer in obtaining good skin contact. 

Who will do the ultrasound procedure?  

Today, due to the technological advances, ultrasound is run by a highly trained professional team. The ultrasound technologist will do the actual procedure, and then the data and pictures obtained from the procedures will given to a radiologist (physician who specializes in the use of radiation and radioactive material for medical diagnosis and treatment).

How long does the procedure take?  

This is a very difficult question to answer. The average time is about an hour. This may vary depending upon the patient as well as the procedure. 

Are there any complications or side effects to the ultrasound procedure?  

No! Ultrasound is painless. You will be aware of the ultrasound technologist moving the transducer across the skin surface, but you will feel no discomfort.