The word ultrasound is tossed around fairly lightly when someone is pregnant. They’ve become a routine part of pregnancy as well as other noninvasive procedures. But what are ultrasounds exactly? How do they work?
Let’s start with a definition. An ultrasound scan uses high frequency sound waves to create a photo of the inside of your body, and doctors use them to detect problems in the stomach, heart, tendons, liver, muscles, blood vessels, and joints. Because radiation is not used, ultrasound scans are considered very safe, and obstetric ultrasounds are often used to check on babies in their mother’s womb.
The word “ultrasound” refers to all sound which humans can’t hear. An interesting challenge is that higher frequencies produce more quality images, but can’t penetrate skin and other tissue as well as lower frequencies.
You might hear the words ultrasound scans and sonograms used interchangeably but the ultrasound scan is the actual procedure, and the sonogram is the image produced.
How Do Ultrasounds Work?
Ultrasounds bounce back off dense surfaces – the denser the object the ultrasound hits, the more it bounces back. This bounce, or echo, shows up on the sonogram as varying shades of gray. For example, if you have no gallstones in your gallbladder, the sound waves will travel through soft tissues and fluids, but if you do have a stone, the ultrasound will bounce back, and your physician can see them. Advances in technology include ways to format the sound waves into 3-D images.
Your sonographer might put gel on the body part that’s being examined. Then, he or she will use a transducer (a device that looks similar to a microphone) to gently touch your skin. The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves to an ultrasound image on a video display screen.
How Should I Prepare for an Ultrasound?
Wear comfortable clothing. You will need to remove all jewelry and clothing in the area that will be examined. For some scans, your doctor may ask you to fast up to 12 hours before the appointment. For other exams, you may need to drink several glasses of water and not urinate so that your bladder is full when the scan starts. Ultrasounds are safe and painless, but in cases where your bladder is full, you may experience some discomfort.
Most ultrasound exams are finished within 30 minutes. When the ultrasound is complete, you may be asked to dress and wait while your sonographer reviews the ultrasound images. After an ultrasound, you should be able to resume your normal activities immediately.
At Creekside Center for Women, we use ultrasounds to diagnosis various health issues concerning women, as well as, determining the correct due date for your baby.