What is an ultrasound?
An ultrasound procedure is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure used to assess soft tissue structures such as muscles, blood vessels, and organs.
Ultrasound uses a transducer that sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. The sound waves bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer picks up the reflected waves, which are then converted by a computer into an electronic picture of the organs or tissues under study.
By using an additional mode of ultrasound technology, blood flow can be assessed. An ultrasound transducer capable of assessing blood flow contains a Doppler probe. The Doppler probe within the transducer evaluates the velocity and direction of blood flow in the vessel and makes the sound waves audible.
Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs and to assess blood flow through various vessels. Ultrasound procedures are often used to examine many parts of the body such as the abdomen, breasts, female pelvis, prostate, scrotum, thyroid and parathyroid glands, and the vascular system. During pregnancy, ultrasounds are performed to evaluate the development of the fetus.
Technological advancements in the field of ultrasound now include images that can be made in a three-dimensional view (3-D) and/or four dimensional (4-D) view. The added dimension of the 4-D is motion, so that it is a 3-D view with movement.
There are no confirmed adverse biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposures to ultrasound.
How are ultrasounds performed?
Although each facility may have specific protocols in place, an ultrasound procedure generally follows this process:
- A gel-like substance will be smeared on the area of the body to undergo the ultrasound (the gel acts as a conductor).
- Using a transducer, the ultrasound will be sent through the patient's body.
- The sound from the transducer will be reflected off structures inside the body, and the information from the sound waves will be analyzed by a computer.
- The computer will create an image of these structures on a television screen. The moving pictures can be recorded.