About the examination

An ultrasound, or sonogram, is a common procedure which uses sound waves to detect, diagnose, and monitor a variety of conditions.

What is an ultrasound?

During an ultrasound the sonographer uses a small ultrasound probe, which emits high frequency sound waves – to create an internal image of a specific area of the body. This image is transmitted to a monitor. Image stills can be captured and printed.

There are three main types of ultrasound:

  • External: the probe is moved over the skin
  • Internal: the probe is inserted into the body

Endoscopic: the probe is inserted further into the body via a long, thin, endoscopic tube.

What part of the anatomy is examined during an ultrasound?

Ultrasounds can be used to examine many parts of the body including the:

  • Blood vessels
  • Pelvis
  • Heart
  • Musculo-skeletal system
  • Abdomen
  • Other soft tissue organs
  • Ultrasounds are also used to monitor the progress and health of pregnant patients.

What conditions can be diagnosed by an ultrasound?

A number of conditions can be identified via an ultrasound. For example:

  • Cysts and abnormal growths
  • Cancer
  • Gallstones
  • Damage to internal organs

For pregnant patients the procedure can also be used to monitor the development of the foetus and identify any potential conditions (i.e. down syndrome).

Why is an ultrasound required?

An ultrasound is required when a GP or Specialist suspects that patients may be suffering from any disease or condition best identified by ultrasound.

Ultrasounds are also the best way to monitor the health of pregnant patients, foetuses and unborn babies.

What are the risks and complications of an ultrasound?

There are no identified risks associated with ultrasounds as, unlike CT scans and X-rays, they do not require or expose the patient to radiation.

To avoid any complications during the procedures patients simply need to inform the sonographer of any allergies or existing conditions which may impact the processes used or the results.

What are the benefits of an ultrasound?

Ultrasounds are simple, safe procedures which do not require the use of radiation to develop images of internal parts of the body.

Are there any alternatives to an ultrasound?

Doctors can also use CT scans, MRIs and X-rays to examine and produce images of internal parts of the body.

Preparation for the ultrasound

Is a special diet required before an ultrasound?

There are no special diets required before an ultrasound. However, you may be instructed to drink extra fluids or abstain from eating depending on the type of ultrasound procedure.

What does the sonographer need to know before an ultrasound?

Before undergoing an ultrasound you should let the sonographer know if you:

  • Are diabetic
  • Suffer from any allergies
  • Taking any medications
  • Recovering from surgery

If you are having an internal ultrasound you will need to inform the sonographer if you have an allergy to latex so that they use a latex-free probe cover.

What to bring for an ultrasound?

You may be asked to bring in previous images or scans for comparison. Everything else needed will be supplied by the sonographer.

What to wear for an ultrasound?

There are no special clothing requirements, although depending on the part of the body being examined you may be need to partially undress, please wear something that is comfortable and easy to remove.

You will be provided with a place to change and a hospital gown to wear.

How long will the ultrasound take?

Depending on the type of ultrasound and the part of the body being examined the procedure can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

When you book your ultrasound appointment you will be advised an estimate of how long the procedure will take.

Detail the specific steps during an ultrasound

The ultrasound procedure varies depending on which part of the body is being examined. For example:

During an external ultrasound a lubricating gel is placed on the skin and then the handheld probe is gently moved over the area.

During an internal ultrasound you may need to lie down on your back (for a pelvic ultrasound) or on your side (for a prostate ultrasound). A small probe will then then inserted into the vagina or rectum.

During an endoscopic ultrasound the probe is attached to a long narrow tube. Typically you will be given a sedative and a local anesthetic spray will be used to numb your throat. The probe is then inserted into the mouth and fed down the throat.

Your GP and/or sonographer will explain the procedure to you in detail and answer any questions you may have.

Post ultrasound instructions

What are the recovery details?

Most patients suffer no side effects and will be able to return to work or home immediately after an ultrasound.

Can I drive home?

A majority of patients will be able to drive immediately after the procedure.