Ultrasound Basics

An ultrasound is a type of medical test used to visualise the body's internal organs, vessels and tissues to diagnose and treat medical conditions such as kidney and gall bladder stones and cancer. Ultrasound is also known as sonography. In addition to this, ultrasound is the primary method of checking the health of the fetus in pregnancy as it does not produce harmful radiation. 

What conditions can ultrasound diagnose?

An ultrasound may be recommended for many conditions, including diseases of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, reproductive organs and liver. Ultrasounds are also used during surgeries to help guide surgeons to the correct site in which they need to operate. In the field of mammography, ultrasound is used by doctors to pinpoint the site of potential cancer and carry out a biopsy.

How can you prepare for an ultrasound?

The preparation for an ultrasound examination depends upon the organ or site in which the ultrasound is going to be performed. In particular, if the abdomen is going to be examined, then the patient will be required to fast a minimum of 12 hours before the examination. This is because any undigested food prevents the sonographer from clearly getting a clear internal image. Furthermore when the gall bladder or pancreas is being examined, the patient will be required to eat a fat free meal or fast beforehand. Patients can however, drink as much water as they want, as this does not interfere with the examination.

For expectant mothers, they are required to drink enough water to fill their bladder before coming in for an ultrasound. However, later in pregnancy this may not be required. 

It is important to tell the sonographer about any prescription drugs or over the counter medications before the examination. 

What happens in an ultrasound?

The patient may be required to change into a gown. Then they will be asked to lay down on the bed provided with the area to be examined exposed. The sonographer uses lubricating gel to rub the ultrasound device on the skin without any friction. The procedure only takes around 30 minutes unless there are complications, e.g., the sonographer is having trouble locating an part of the fetus etc.

The medical report is usually sent to the doctor who then advises their patients whether they need to get any additional tests done.

Ultrasound technology as revolutionized medical imaging and more and more doctors are using this technology to help diagnose conditions.