Ultrasound Test

Why You May Need an Ultrasound Even if You Aren't Pregnant

abdomen, hands on stomach, belly pain, abdominal pain
Ultrasound Is Frequently Used to Diagnose Abdominal Pain.

What is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, is an imaging study done to look at the structures inside the human body. It is used to screen patients for problems, diagnose illness and disease, and to monitor for changes in condition.  The ultrasound machine uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of the human body, similar to radar and sonar.  Photos or video of these ultrasound images can be taken.


The ultrasound is non-invasive, meaning it looks inside the human body without an incision.  The ultrasound causes no pain, and is both quick and accurate. Most ultrasounds can be completed in 30 minutes or less. 

The ultrasound is most commonly known for its use with pregnant women, which allows the medical provider (and parents!) to see a black and white image of the fetus. Monitoring pregnancy is just one of the ways this versatile test is used.  It can be used for many different areas of the body, and can often provide a diagnosis for an illness quickly.  

Why is an Ultrasound Used?

An ultrasound is used to look inside the human body to make a diagnosis.  The benefit of the ultrasound is that it can be completed quickly, does not cause pain or require an incision, and is very versatile.  

The ultrasound is best used to look at internal organs and tissues.  An ultrasound is very useful for looking at organs, muscle and soft tissue.

  It is not useful for looking at the adult brain as the skull prevents useful images from being obtained.  

Tests Frequently Performed Before and After Surgery

Common reasons for an ultrasound include:

  • Examining the arteries that feed the heart
  • Looking at the blood vessels that feed the brain
  • Examining a leg for a possible blood clot
  • Monitoring a pregnancy
  • Checking organ size and function
  • Looking for abdominal fluid
  • Determining a cause for vaginal bleeding
  • Look for gallbladder issues including gallstones
  • To prepare for a surgical procedure
  • To guide a procedure that requires precise placement (such as a biopsy)
  • To examine the thyroid gland

During an Ultrasound

During an ultrasound you will be required to be still.  The ultrasound technician will place a clear gel over the area to be examined, then will touch that skin with a transducer, a hand held tool that looks like a small wand.   Once the transducer is touching the skin, an image will be produced.  Moving the transducer will create different images and allow the area to be examined from many angles.  

Some ultrasound  procedures are done in different areas, if the heart is to be studied an ultrasound is typically done by holding the transducer over the heart.  A pelvic ultrasound requires a special transducer that is inserted into the vagina to produce images. 

Risks of an Ultrasound

There are no known risks associated with a standard ultrasound.  The test does not expose the patient to ionizing radiation like an x-ray does, and aside from possible discomfort due to the position the patient is laying in for the examination.

When appropriate, the ultrasound is a highly effective, quick and pain-free. It is also less expensive than other tests that look inside the body, such as a CT scan or MRI.


Abdominal Ultrasound.  Medline Plus.  Accessed October, 2015.  https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003777.htm

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