6 Reasons Doctors Use Ultrasound

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Ultrasound detail

Ultrasound uses sound waves to help your doctor "see" inside your body. Simply moving a sound wave generator—called a transducer—over your skin makes sounds waves go through your body. When sound waves hit tissue, fluid or bones, they bounce back to the transducer. It then converts them into images your doctor can see on a monitor.

Doctors like to use ultrasound because it's safe and effective. It does not involve X-rays. It also can create many different types of images. From the patient's point of view, ultrasound is pain-free and requires no special preparation.

Common uses of ultrasound are:

For pregnancy

Ultrasound images can give your doctor lots of information about your pregnancy. This includes the age of your developing baby, the baby's position, and the baby's overall health. A prenatal ultrasound can tell the baby's sex, too. Traditional ultrasound is a two-dimensional image. A newer type of ultrasound takes even more images. It creates a three-dimensional image called 3D ultrasound. A 4D ultrasound adds motion to the images.

For blood vessel problems

Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to provide images of blood passing through your veins or arteries. Your doctor may order this type of ultrasound to look for a blood clot or a blockage in your circulatory system. If you've had surgery on a blood vessel, your doctor may use ultrasound to make sure blood flow is back to normal.

For abdominal problems

If you have belly pain, bloating or swelling, an abdominal ultrasound can help your doctor figure out why. The images it creates let your doctor see your kidneys, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, and the blood vessels in your abdomen. Also, new ultrasound technology makes it easier to get abdominal images when someone is obese or difficult to scan for other reasons. Technicians now can control the depth of the ultrasound signal so the scans produce better-quality images for the doctor to examine.

For children

Because ultrasound is painless and has no harmful radiation, it's an excellent option for use on children. If your child has abdominal pain, ultrasound may be the first test the child’s doctor orders. Ultrasound may help your child's doctor find the cause of vomiting, for instance. The doctor also can learn about blood flow through the abdomen, arms, legs, neck and brain. The two most common reasons for ultrasound imaging in children are to evaluate injuries and to diagnose appendicitis.

For biopsies

Your doctor may rely on ultrasound when he or she must do a biopsy. That's taking a tissue sample to examine under a microscope. Ultrasound can act as a guide. The ultrasound image tells your doctor exactly where to take the sample.

Biopsy is one way to diagnose cancer. A common example is a breast biopsy. The ultrasound image of a breast lump shows the doctor where to place a needle into the lump to remove cells. The doctor does not need to make an incision. Doctors also use ultrasound to guide biopsies for diagnosing thyroid lumps or nodules.

For your heart

If you have symptoms of heart disease, your doctor may order an ultrasound exam called an echocardiogram. Like other ultrasound exams, an echocardiogram is painless and requires no preparation. The transducer simply moves over your chest. An echocardiogram can give your doctor information about the size of your heart and any problems with your heart valves. It can indicate how well your heart is pumping. During pregnancy, an echocardiogram of the fetus can show if the baby has a heart defect.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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