What Is Ultrasound? All You Should Know

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Ultrasound, or ultrasonography, is a diagnostic method that employs a transducer emitting high-frequency sound waves to capture images directly inside the body. These images are then reflected and displayed through medical imaging. With advancements in equipment and technology, ultrasound images are now rendered with clarity and realism, aiding physicians in accurately diagnosing diseases and subsequently applying appropriate and effective treatment methods.


What is Ultrasound?

The ultrasound technique is utilized to examine various organs and body parts, including the heart, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, thyroid gland, ovaries, uterus, developing fetus, blood vessels, and more. It is employed to detect abnormal masses, observe organ changes, and monitor fetal development. Despite being a common, effective, and safe technique, it is advisable for patients to undergo ultrasound only when recommended by a physician.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Ultrasound Technology

Ultrasound is recognized as a non-invasive imaging diagnostic method that aids physicians in diagnosing and treating diseases. Notable advancements in modern ultrasound technology include 3D ultrasound, capable of reproducing received data from sound waves into three-dimensional images, and 4D ultrasound, an integration of 3D ultrasound with the recording of motion.

Advantages of Ultrasound

  • Supports Diagnosis: Assists doctors in examining and diagnosing various conditions such as tumors, inflammation, deformities, etc., in multiple body locations like the liver, gallbladder, kidneys, abdomen, breasts, uterus, etc.
  • Clear Imaging: Provides sharp images to assess fetal development, especially with 3D ultrasound, which can detect early morphological abnormalities in the fetus.
  • Accurate Assessment: Precisely evaluates the position and size of stones, like kidney stones, urinary stones, bladder stones, etc.
  • Non-Invasive and Painless: As a non-invasive imaging technique, it poses no harm or pain to the user and allows multiple examinations if necessary.
  • Radiation-Free: Uses sound waves instead of ionizing radiation like X-rays, ensuring no impact on the health of the fetus. Additionally, it provides clear images of soft tissues that X-rays may not capture effectively.
  • Cost-Effective: Ultrasound is often more affordable than other imaging diagnostic methods, making it widely considered for various medical examinations.

Disadvantages of Ultrasound

  • Inability to Accurately Diagnose Abnormalities in the Bowel: Ultrasound faces challenges in accurately diagnosing abnormalities in the bowel and organs obscured by the bowel due to impedance caused by air and gas. In such cases, alternative methods like CT scans or MRI scans are considered.
  • Limited Transmission in Air: Ultrasound cannot transmit effectively through air, necessitating additional imaging methods for organs such as the pancreas, stomach, and aorta.
  • Surface Imaging of Bones Only: Ultrasound reveals surface images of bones but cannot visualize the internal structure of bones.
  • Limited Penetration of Ultrasound Waves: The penetration depth of ultrasound waves is restricted, especially in structures deep within the body. Consequently, this method is limited in individuals who are overweight or obese.
  • Effectiveness Depends on the Skill and Experience of the Ultrasound Operator: The quality of ultrasound images depends on the proficiency and experience of the ultrasound operator in obtaining the best-quality images.

Why Undergo Ultrasound?

In cases where patients exhibit symptoms such as pain, swelling, or specific characteristic indications, physicians may recommend undergoing ultrasound imaging to observe comprehensive and detailed images of internal organs. Specifically, ultrasound is utilized for:

  • Aiding in Diagnosing Gallbladder Disorders: Providing insights into the diagnosis of gallbladder-related conditions.
  • Assessing Blood Flow: Examining blood flow within the body.
  • Checking Thyroid Function: Evaluating the activity of the thyroid gland.
  • Identifying Breast Tumors: Detecting tumors in the breast.
  • Evaluating Joint Inflammation and Fluid Accumulation: Assessing conditions like joint inflammation, synovitis, and musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Detecting Issues in Reproductive Organs and Prostate Gland: Identifying problems in reproductive organs and the prostate gland.
  • Ultrasound of the Uterus and Ovaries: Monitoring the health and development of the fetus during pregnancy.

This is also considered a useful tool to guide physicians in making further recommendations, such as biopsies. In the absence of ultrasound techniques in the past, identifying and evaluating abnormalities within the body posed significant challenges. Diseases were often discovered at later stages, leading to increased risks of complications. However, with the advent and robust development of diagnostic imaging methods, particularly ultrasound, the landscape has transformed. Ultrasound stands out as a contemporary imaging diagnostic technique widely applied. Anyone can undergo this technique to detect diseases early, enabling precise diagnosis and facilitating easier treatment. This has significantly improved the ability to identify and address health issues promptly, preventing potential complications.

What happens during an ultrasound?

An ultrasound is typically conducted by a sonographer, a healthcare professional specially trained for ultrasound exams. The procedure varies depending on the body part being examined, but most ultrasounds follow these general steps:

  1. Preparation:You will undress the area to be examined and lie on a table.
  2. Gel Application The sonographer will apply a special gel to the skin over the examination area.
  3. Transducer Use: Holding a wand-like device known as a transducer, the sonographer will move it across your skin. This device emits sound waves into your body. The gel ensures there is no air interference between the device and your skin, preventing obstruction of the soundwaves. Although the sound waves are of very high frequency, they are inaudible and imperceptible.
  4. Echo Reception: The soundwaves rebound off internal structures within your body. The ultrasound device captures these echoes and translates them into images displayed on a computer screen. In some cases, you may have the opportunity to view these images during the examination.

After the exam is over, the sonographer will wipe the gel off your skin.

In specific ultrasound examinations, the ultrasound device is inserted into a bodily opening for enhanced imaging clarity. Depending on the organs under examination, the device may be positioned in the:

  • Vagina: Referred to as a transvaginal ultrasound, it aids in visualizing the uterus and ovaries.
  • Rectum: Known as a transrectal ultrasound, it is commonly performed to observe the prostate gland.
  • Esophagus: Conducted as a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), this procedure focuses on obtaining distinct images of the heart.

Guidelines to follow during the procedure

  • Provide accurate information about any medications you are currently taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or dietary supplements, to ensure the appropriate ultrasound method is determined.
  • In the case of ultrasound for young children, additional specific requirements need to be adhered to. Therefore, parents should seek advice from the doctor for the best preparation.
  • Adhere strictly to the instructions provided by the ultrasound technician throughout the procedure.

Frequently asked questions

Is fasting required for ultrasound?

Typically, ultrasound for certain organs or body parts can be performed without any specific preparation, such as ultrasound of the heart, blood vessels, neck, eyes, thyroid, breast, soft tissues, bones, and joints, among others. However, in certain cases, participants may need thorough preparation to facilitate the procedure and avoid prolonged duration:

  • For ultrasound of the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen: It is recommended to have a fat-free meal the evening before the ultrasound, followed by fasting for 8–12 hours before the procedure.
  • For renal and urinary ultrasound: Drinking 4–6 glasses of water and refraining from urination about 1 hour before the ultrasound is necessary to distend the bladder. Additionally, participants may be required to fast for 8–12 hours before the ultrasound to prevent gas accumulation in the intestines.
  • For abdominal aorta ultrasound: Fasting for 8–12 hours before the ultrasound is advised.

Does ultrasound help detect cancer?

This is a question that many people are concerned about due to the severity of the disease. Currently, ultrasound machines do not support the detection of cancer cells because it is challenging to detect them before they have formed. However, ultrasound serves as an effective imaging diagnostic method for cancer screening, providing a basis for doctors to recommend further methods such as biopsy, blood tests, endoscopy, CT scans, etc. Therefore, if individuals wish to assess their health, they can consult with doctors to receive appropriate recommendations for screening techniques.

Is an ultrasound painful?

External ultrasounds (conducted over your skin) are typically painless. You won’t perceive the sound waves used in ultrasound. Discomfort may arise if you need a full bladder for the procedure or if you’re pregnant and lying on the exam table.

Internal ultrasounds, like those performed in body cavities such as the vagina or rectum, may cause discomfort but should not be painful.

Ultrasounds are standard, secure, and efficient imaging examinations. Ensure your ultrasound is conducted by a proficient professional (sonographer) knowledgeable in the proper use of this technology. For any queries concerning your particular ultrasound procedure, consult with our MaNaDr doctors. They are ready to provide assistance.

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