What is an ultrasound test and why you might need it

Updated on November 3, 2021

Ultrasound tests are cheap, accurate and painless. From this article, you’ll get to know how they work and how you can benefit from them.

Ultrasound is a painless, affordable and efficient technology that enables doctors to diagnose problems of organs and soft tissues. This method was invented in the middle of the twentieth century and it didn’t become obsolete at all after MRT and CT scans were introduced to the market. Read this article to learn how ultrasound imaging functions, what are its primary benefits and what are the main types of this examination. Plus, you’ll get to know how to prepare for the test and in which cases you might need it.

The Basics of Ultrasound Imaging

This technology is also known as sonography. To find out any potential issues inside the patient’s organism, the medical professional uses a tool called a transducer. It emits a high-frequency sound that humans can’t hear. Sound waves travel through the tissues of the patient’s body and their echoes bounce back. Judging by the characteristics of these waves, the doctor can assess the state of the patient’s organism.

The professional who is carrying out this type of test is called a sonographer or ultrasound technician. Usually, this person will conduct the test and get the image of your tissues on a computer display. The images will be ready for immediate use. A radiologist or your doctor will interpret them and diagnose your health conditions.

Use of the Ultrasound Technology

Medical professionals rely on this method for four main purposes.


This method enables doctors to detect an extensive range of illnesses — but only with certain limitations. Sound waves fail to transmit well through dense bone. Plus, they can’t be used for assessing the conditions of those parts of the organism that might hold air or gas. But they can cope very well with soft tissues, such as eyes, liver and so on.

Therapeutic Applications

Sound waves can not only diagnose soft-tissue injuries but also treat them.


This method allows sonographers to rule out ectopic pregnancies, reveal the presence of twins or other multiples and determine due dates. Thanks to ultrasound, ladies can get to know the gender of their babies. This test is indispensable for detecting any potential pregnancy problems. Before the delivery, the doctor can use it to estimate the size of the baby’s body.

Use During Medical Procedures

One of the most vivid examples is a needle biopsy. The doctor needs to remove tissue from a certain area inside the organism for lab testing — and ultrasound imaging enables them to do so safely and accurately.

Types of Ultrasound

During the examination, the doctor would be typically moving a transducer on the surface of the patient’s skin. Yet if needed, they might insert the tool into one of the body’s natural openings. In this case, ultrasound might belong to one of the following categories.

  • Transvaginal. The medical professional places a transducer wand in a woman’s vagina to examine her ovaries and uterus.
  • Transrectal. Doctors rely on it to diagnose prostate conditions.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram. To obtain clearer images of the heart, the sonographer introduces the transducer probe in the esophagus.

This method supports the following types of imaging:

  • Doppler. It takes images of blood flow through vessels.
  • Bone sonography. It enables medical professionals to diagnose osteoporosis.
  • Echocardiograms. Sonographers use them to view the heart.

Traditional ultrasound delivers flat 2D images. 3D imaging can add an extra dimension to them and the 4D approach can show 3D images in motion.

Advantages of the Technology

Both medical professionals and their patients value ultrasound for the following reasons:

  • It’s widely accessible and has an affordable price tag
  • It is painless and non-invasive
  • It captures images of soft tissues that might fail to show up well on X-rays
  • Unlike X-rays or CT scans, this type of investigation doesn’t involve ionizing radiation

Scientists have not detected any detrimental side effects from ultrasound tests. Even pregnant ladies, elderly people and small children can have them as frequently as needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

The exact instructions might vary depending on which type of ultrasound test you are planning to have. These are just a few examples of what your doctor might ask you to do:

  • Avoid eating or drinking for a few hours before the appointment
  • Drink several glasses of water and refrain from using the bathroom
  • Wear comfortable clothing that is easy to remove
  • Change to a gown

However, in most cases, the sonographer should be able to access the area of your body that needs examination without asking you to undress. The medical professional will apply a water-based gel to your skin to enable the transducer to glide across it smoothly. Typically, the procedure should take between 30 and 60 minutes. You will be awake and alert and you will not feel any discomfort.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you found this article informative and it helped you to better understand the essence and benefits of ultrasound in medicine. Thanks to non-invasive and affordable ultrasound, doctors can diagnose diverse problems with organs and soft tissues. Sound waves can detect anomalies and sometimes also treat them. They are indispensable for monitoring pregnancies and they are often used during medical procedures to ensure safety and accuracy. The test lasts less than an hour and you won’t feel any discomfort.

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