Ultrasound imaging is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Ultrasound imaging, also called sonography, involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use radiation (as used in x-rays or CAT scan). Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.

Conventional ultrasound displays the images in thin, flat sections of the body. Advancements in ultrasound technology include three-dimensional (3-D) ultrasound that formats the sound wave data into 3-D images. Four-dimensional (4-D) ultrasound is 3-D ultrasound in motion.

A Doppler ultrasound study may be part of an ultrasound examination. Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood as it flows through a blood vessel, including the body's major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

Ultrasound examinations can help to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess organ damage following illness. Ultrasound is used to help physicians evaluate symptoms such as pain, swelling or infection. Ultrasound is a useful way of examining many of the body's internal organs, including but not limited to the:

  • heart and blood vessels, including the abdominal aorta and its major branches
  • liver
  • gallbladder
  • spleen
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • bladder
  • uterus, ovaries, and unborn child (fetus) in pregnant patients
  • eyes
  • thyroid and parathyroid glands
  • scrotum (testicles)

Ultrasound is also used to:

  • Guide procedures such as needle biopsies, in which needles are used to extract sample cells from an abnormal area for laboratory testing.
  • Image the breasts and to guide biopsy of breast cancer (performed in Mammography).
  • Diagnose a variety of heart conditions and to assess damage after a heart attack or other illness (echocardiography, done typically in the cardiology department).

Doppler ultrasound images can help the physician to see and evaluate:

  • blockages to blood flow (such as clots)
  • narrowing of vessels (which may be caused by plaque)
  • tumors and congenital malformation

What Preparation is Needed?

You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam. You will need to remove all clothing and jewelry in the area to be examined.

You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure.

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of procedure you are undergoing. For more information, please read about your scheduled procedure using the links on the left.