Ultrasound Imaging

What is General Ultrasound Imaging?

Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or 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 ionizing radiation (x-ray). 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.

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 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
  • Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands
  • Scrotum (Testicles)
  • Tendons, Ligaments, Joint Spaces

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 lesions.
  • Stage Rectal Cancer
  • Aspirate fluid from cysts or other fluid collections
  • Inject medications to relieve pain and inflammation around joints
  • 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

How is the procedure performed?

For most ultrasound exams, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.

A clear gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The sonographer (ultrasound technologist) or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it back and forth over the area of interest.

Doppler sonography is performed using the same transducer.

When the examination is complete, the patient may be asked to dress and wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed. However, the sonographer or radiologist is often able to review the ultrasound images in real-time as they are acquired and the patient can be released immediately.

What will I experience during and after the procedure?

Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy.

After you are positioned on the examination table, the radiologist or sonographer will spread some warm gel on your skin and then press the transducer firmly against your body, moving it back and forth over the area of interest until the desired images are captured. There may be varying degrees of discomfort from pressure as the transducer is pressed against the area being examined.

If scanning is performed over an area of tenderness, you may feel pressure or minor pain from the procedure.

Ultrasound exams in which the transducer is attached to probe and inserted into an opening of the body may produce minimal discomfort.

If a Doppler ultrasound study is performed, you may actually hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured.

Once the imaging is complete, the gel will be wiped off your skin.

After an ultrasound exam, you should be able to resume your normal activities.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

Dr. Hammers, D.O. is a radiologist specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care or referring physician, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss preliminary results with you at the conclusion of your examination.

What are the benefits vs. risks?

For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no known harmful effects on humans.

What are the limitations of General Ultrasound Imaging?

Ultrasound waves are reflected by air or gas; therefore ultrasound is not an ideal imaging technique for the bowel. Barium exams and CT scanning are the methods of choice for bowel-related problems.

Ultrasound waves do not pass through air; therefore an evaluation of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine may be limited. Intestinal gas may also prevent visualization of deeper structures such as the pancreas and aorta. Patients who are obese are more difficult to image because tissue attenuates (weakens) the sound waves as they pass deeper into the body.

Ultrasound has difficulty penetrating bone and therefore can only see the outer surface of bony structures and not what lies within. For visualizing internal structure of bones or certain joints, other imaging modalities such as MRI are typically used.