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What Should I Expect from an Ultrasound Procedure?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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An ultrasound procedure is most commonly thought of as used to check a developing fetus for problems, and potentially to determine a baby’s gender. Many obstetricians prescribe ultrasounds for their patients around the 20th week of pregnancy or sooner if medically necessary. This procedure may also be done by doctors in their offices, or it may be performed at an outpatient radiology clinic or hospital, and it would be a mistake to assume that the only people who are pregnant have them.

Actually, the ultrasound procedure is a useful diagnostic tool in many fields of medicine. Gynecologists may use them to visualize the uterus or ovaries to check for presence of things like cysts. Other specialists may order one to visualize the kidneys, gallbladder, liver or heart. When an ultrasound evaluates the heart, it is usually called an echocardiogram or echo for short.

Depending upon what a doctor needs to view, people who will have an ultrasound procedure may need to follow slightly different directions. Women undergoing fetal ultrasounds are often advised to drink a certain amount of water about an hour beforehand and not to use the bathroom during this time. This can make the ultrasound a little bit uncomfortable because need to use the restroom can be very strong. However most ultrasounds are not particularly uncomfortable beyond bladder discomfort.

Patients can expect the ultrasound procedure to take place in a somewhat darkened room. They will generally lie on a comfortable bed and may notice a large screen that the technician uses to get visual images of the area being investigated. People may need to wear a gown, though many are allowed to retain their clothing.

As the procedure begins, the person performing it puts special gel on the skin in the area being evaluated. This gel helps to conduct sound waves created by the ultrasound wand or transducer through the skin, and it’s easily wiped off when the procedure is over. Basically, the technician uses the ultrasound transducer over the area of the body being examined with light to moderate pressure on the skin. This will bring up corresponding images on the screen, and at times during the procedure, the technician may stop to look at or magnify certain areas. Many ultrasounds are recorded so they others can review them.

It is common for most ultrasounds to be performed by a technician. If a doctor doesn’t perform any part of the ultrasound procedure, he or she typically reviews it after the procedure is done. It’s important to understand this because techs usually are not allowed to give diagnostic information. If a tech visualizes cancer or a congenital defect, they can’t usually tell the person having the ultrasound.

A tech may call a doctor into a room to confirm diagnosis or to simply check ultrasounds, and the doctor may be able to answer questions from patients and diagnose. When this doctor is a radiologist, he or she may discuss diagnosis first with the doctor who ordered the ultrasound procedure, and allow that doctor to give results to patients. Therefore it may take a few hours to days after an ultrasound to get information about its results, though there are exceptions to this.

Many ultrasounds use the transducer on areas of the stomach, but it can be used on other areas of the body. In some cases when pelvic or fetal ultrasounds are performed, they need to be done trans-vaginally. This means that the transducer will be inserted into the vagina. Echocardiograms use the transducer on the chest and the upper abdomen to visualize the heart. The area in which the transducer is used is determined mostly by what needs to be evaluated.

Usually an ultrasound procedure is outpatient and takes a couple of hours in total. Unless medical treatment needs are immediate, most people go home directly after having one. There are few complications from ultrasounds, though transvaginal ones can cause some slight vaginal bleeding. This should be noted to doctors if bleeding is very heavy or if the ultrasound was to evaluate a fetus. Most people have no aftereffects from this procedure.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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