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Ultrasound

Show Alternative Names
Sonogram

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of organs and structures inside the body.

How the Test is Performed

An ultrasound machine makes images so that organs inside the body can be examined. The machine sends out high-frequency sound waves, which reflect off body structures. A computer receives the waves and uses them to create a picture. Unlike with an x-ray or CT scan, this test does not use ionizing radiation.

The test is done in the ultrasound or radiology department.

  • You will lie down for the test.
  • A clear, water-based gel is applied to the skin on the area to be examined. The gel helps with the transmission of the sound waves.
  • A handheld probe called a transducer is moved over the area being examined. You may need to change position so that other areas can be examined.

How to Prepare for the Test

Your preparation will depend on the part of the body being examined.

How the Test will Feel

Most of the time, ultrasound procedures do not cause discomfort. The conducting gel may feel a little cold and wet.

Why the Test is Performed

The reason for the test will depend on your symptoms. An ultrasound test may be used to identify problems involving:

Normal Results

Results are considered normal if the organs and structures being examined look OK.

What Abnormal Results Mean

The meaning of abnormal results will depend on the part of the body being examined and the problem found. Talk to your health care provider about your questions and concerns.

Risks

There are no known risks. The test does not use ionizing radiation.

Considerations

Some types of ultrasound tests need to be done with a probe that is inserted into your body. Talk to your provider about how your test will be done.

Text only

Review Date: 7/3/2020

Reviewed By

Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

References

Butts C. Ultrasound. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 66.

Fowler GC, Lefevre N. Emergency department, hospitalist, and office ultrasound (POCUS). In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 214.

Merritt CRB. Physics of ultrasound. In: Rumack CM, Levine D, eds. Diagnostic Ultrasound. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 1.

Disclaimer

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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3D ultrasound provides a three dimensional image of the fetus. Sound waves are sent at different angles by the transducer for the computer to reconstruct the height, width, and depth of the image.

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Abdominal ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

Abdominal ultrasound

Abdominal ultrasound is a scanning technique used to image the interior of the abdomen. Like the X-ray, MRI, and CT scan, it has its place as a diagnostic tool. Ultrasound scans use high frequency sound waves to produce an image and do not expose the individual to radiation. The procedure is painless and safe.

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Ultrasound in pregnancy - Illustration Thumbnail

Ultrasound in pregnancy

The ultrasound has become a standard procedure used during pregnancy. It can demonstrate fetal growth and can detect increasing numbers of conditions in the fetus including meningomyelocele, congenital heart disease, kidney abnormalities, hydrocephalus, anencephaly, club feet, and other deformities. Ultrasound does not produce ionizing radiation and is considered a very safe procedure for both the mother and the fetus.

Illustration

17 week ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

17 week ultrasound

During seventeen to twenty weeks of development, fetal movements known as quickening are commonly felt by the mother.

Illustration

30 week ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

30 week ultrasound

Around 30 weeks, the growth of the brain markedly increases. Most systems are well developed, and the fetus can see and hear. A baby may survive if born this early, although the lungs may still be immature.

Illustration

Carotid duplex - Illustration Thumbnail

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Thyroid ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

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Illustration

Ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

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Illustration

Ultrasound, normal fetus - ventricles of brain - Illustration Thumbnail

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This is a normal fetal ultrasound performed at 17 weeks gestation. The development of the brain and nervous system begins early in fetal development. During an ultrasound, the technician usually looks for the presence of brain ventricles. Ventricles are spaces in the brain that are filled with fluid. In this early ultrasound, the ventricles can be seen as light lines extending through the skull, seen in the upper right side of the image.

Illustration

3D ultrasound - Illustration Thumbnail

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3D ultrasound provides a three dimensional image of the fetus. Sound waves are sent at different angles by the transducer for the computer to reconstruct the height, width, and depth of the image.

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