What is an ultrasonography?

An ultrasound is a diagnostic medical test that uses high-frequency sound waves (also called ultrasound) to bounce off structures in the body and create images. Appropriately, this test is also called an ultrasound or a sonogram.

Ultrasonography uses a device called a transducer on the surface of the skin to send ultrasound waves and listen for echoes. A computer converts the ultrasound into images. Trained technicians can view, measure and identify structures in images. The healthcare provider then reads the images to help diagnose the problem or problem at hand.

This article explains the purpose and limitations of ultrasonography. To demystify testing, this article also explains what happens before and during testing.

Testing purposes

Sonograms capture real-time images of what’s going on inside the body. Ultrasonography can be used to assess the size, shape, and density of tissue to help diagnose certain medical conditions. Traditionally, ultrasound imaging is ideal for viewing the abdomen without incision. Abdominal ultrasound is often used to diagnose:

  • Gallbladder disease or gallstones
  • kidney stones or kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • appendicitis
  • ovarian cyst
  • ectopic pregnancy
  • Uterine growths or fibroids and other conditions

Ultrasound is most commonly used to monitor the development of the uterus and fetus during pregnancy. It can also be used to assess glands, breast lumps, joint conditions, bone disease, testicular masses, or to guide the needle during a biopsy.

Ultrasonography can also identify blood or fluid flow moving toward or away from the transducer. It uses a color overlay on the image to show the direction of the flow. Very hard and dense tissue or cavities, such as gas-filled organs, do not conduct ultrasound and therefore cannot be seen on an ultrasound.

Doctors usually do an ultrasound first, and then use imaging techniques that are more likely to cause complications. Computed tomography (CT) scans can expose you to significant levels of radiation. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses extremely strong magnets to capture images. The strength of MRI magnets may limit their use in patients with metal in their bodies, such as braces.


Ultrasounds are arguably one of the prettiest tools a healthcare provider can use. It functions like a camera, taking pictures of body parts in real time. This image enables providers to diagnose various medical conditions. For many expecting parents, if an ultrasound can ensure they have a healthy baby, it may be something to celebrate.

Precautions and Risks

Ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging test with no known complications. Ultrasound is considered harmless.

While the energy of the ultrasound may irritate or destroy tissue with prolonged exposure, the computer modulates the power of the sound. In addition, trained technicians use techniques to minimize exposure times and angles, making ultrasonography the safest of all imaging tests.

before testing

Health care providers perform ultrasound tests as a first-line test, usually along with blood tests. Be sure to ask your provider if there are any special instructions you should follow before having an ultrasound.

In an emergency, an ultrasonography is usually done right away. For tests on future dates, determine if you should or should not eat or drink anything before the test. For example, healthcare providers often ask patients to fast (no food or drink) for six hours before an abdominal ultrasound scan of the gallbladder. But they may tell you to drink a few glasses of water and not urinate before your bladder ultrasound.


Ultrasound examinations usually take no more than 30 minutes. In most cases, it is important to arrive 15 minutes before the test to complete the form and possibly answer other questions. If the test requires you to drink water to fill your bladder, you may need to drink water before the test.

Once the technician has all the pictures, they will check with a radiologist (a healthcare provider trained in image reading) to make sure no other views are needed. Medical protocols require radiologists to interpret images in ultrasound images before sending reports to healthcare providers. The provider then shares the results with the patient.


Ultrasonography is performed in most imaging centers, hospitals, and some obstetric offices. Ultrasound machines look a bit like computers with microphones – almost like karaoke machines. Often, the ultrasound machine is rolled directly to the bedside.

what to wear

Wear comfortable, easily removable clothing to your ultrasound appointment. In most cases, you only need to expose the skin that the technician needs to touch. For example, an abdominal ultrasound can be done while you are wearing pants and a shirt. You just have to pull up your shirt to reveal your midsection.

In the case of a transvaginal ultrasound, you must remove clothing from the waist down, including underwear.

Fees and Health Insurance

Ultrasound is a relatively inexpensive imaging test. It’s included with most insurance policies and may require pre-authorization, depending on why the healthcare provider ordered it in the first place.

A 3D or 4D ultrasound is an optional test that some expecting parents do during pregnancy. A 3D image shows a 3D rendering of the baby; 4D refers to an animated video rendering of the baby in the womb captured over time. These are called recreational tests, and most health insurance policies don’t cover them.

Safety test

Ultrasound imaging enjoys what the FDA calls an “excellent safety record.” It does not pose the same risks as other imaging tests that use ionizing radiation, such as X-rays.

During the test

In many cases, the ultrasound exam ends before you know it. Here’s what you can expect:

throughout the test

Ultrasonography is performed by a technician at the bedside. The technician will ask you to remove enough clothing to expose the area being tested and lie down in bed.

Technicians will coat the transducer with a conductive gel that feels like a lubricant. If possible, the gel will get hot depending on the tools and supplies available. The technician will then slide the transducer across the skin, sometimes pressing firmly. Sometimes, stress can cause mild discomfort.

Using the sensor to point to the area of ​​interest, the technician will capture an image using a computer and possibly drag a line across the screen using a mouse. Lines help measure dimensions, just like virtual scales. You should be able to watch the entire process and even ask questions along the way.

after test

After the ultrasound, the technician will usually provide a towel to wipe the conductive gel. Once the technician confirms that all necessary images have been captured, you are free to dress. There are no special instructions or side effects to manage.

How to use ultrasound during pregnancy?

Interpret the results

A radiologist can usually interpret an ultrasound in just a few minutes. Often, ultrasound results are sent to a healthcare provider to share with the patient. So if you don’t hear from your provider within the promised time frame, be sure to follow up. If necessary, you can also request a copy of the radiologist’s report and a CD with the original images. For many parents-to-be, this makes the entire trip worthwhile.


Ultrasonography is used to assess, diagnose, and treat a variety of conditions, from lumps to kidney stones. By far its most common use is to check the development of the fetus and hear its heartbeat during pregnancy. The real-time images captured by the sonogram are a painless procedure and a quick one. In many cases, the ultrasound examination takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish. Follow your provider’s instructions on whether you should eat or drink before the test, wear comfortable clothing, and the test may end before you have a chance to fully relax.

VigorTip words

Ultrasound is one of the most non-invasive diagnostic medical tests available. This is a safe option for patients who need to know what’s going on inside the body. If images are required, ask your healthcare provider if an ultrasound is an option.