Utrasound is an imaging method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of tissues, bones and organs inside your body that are helpful for diagnosing and treating a variety of injuries or conditions.

The hand-held ultrasound device or transducer is placed on the skin. Its ultrasound waves move through the body and bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the device to create the picture.

The sound waves travel at different speeds depending on the type of tissue encountered — fastest through bones and slowest through air. The speed at which the sound waves are returned as well as how much of the sound wave returns is documented by the transducer.

The transducer processes the reflected waves, and they are converted into an image of the area, organs or tissues being examined.

Another type of ultrasound, the Doppler ultrasound, is used to evaluate the speed and direction of blood flow in arteries and veins, and blood flow to an organ.

Why do I need this test?

While most people are familiar with ultrasound because of its common use in monitoring the growth and development of the fetus during pregnancy, ultrasounds are also used to:

  • Examine different organs within the body
  • Assess joint inflammation and metabolic bone disease
  • Evaluate joints or muscles for causes of pain, such as tears
  • Observe the heart and valves to evaluate pumping effectiveness and any leaks
  • Evaluate blood flow for clots or blockages in the arteries or veins
  • Provide guidance for minimally invasive procedures and various types of biopsies

Are there any risks?

Ultrasound is a safe procedure. There are no known risks or adverse biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposure to low-power sound waves.

What should I do to prepare?

Most ultrasound exams do not require any special preparation. However, your physician may give you specific instructions depending upon your situation.

You may want to wear loose clothing to your ultrasound appointment. You may be asked to remove jewelry during your ultrasound, so it's also a good idea to leave any valuables at home.

Young children may need some special preparation. Your doctor can provide tips to help alleviate any fears or issues for your child.

The physicians at Semmes Murphey Clinic have a world renown reputation in pediatric surgery and treatment based on their many years’ experience treating patients at both LeBonheur Children’s Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Your doctor will help you prepare your child for this test and any phase of their treatment.

What should I expect during the test?

An ultrasound is painless. A typical exam usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes but can last an hour.

Although each physician may have different protocols, an ultrasound procedure generally follows a simple and predictable process.

Before the ultrasound, you may be asked to remove any jewelry from the area being examined.

If you are asked to remove some or all of your clothing, a hospital gown will be provided.

The ultrasound will be administered by a trained technician who will first ask you to lie back on the examination table.

A gel will be applied to the skin in the examination area to allow for smooth movement and to prevent air between the skin and the device which can block the sound waves. The gel is water-based and easily removed from skin and clothing after the test.

The technician will press a small, hand-held device called a transducer against the area being studied and move it as needed to gather images of the area.

The transducer sends sound waves into your body, collects the ones that bounce back and then sends them to a computer, which creates and stores the images digitally.

You should be able to return to normal activities immediately after an ultrasound.

When will I receive my results?

Ultrasounds are saved digitally and are usually visible on-screen within minutes. A sonographer typically views and interprets the results then sends a report to your physician.

If your appointment is the same day as your test, your physician may review the results with you at that time. Otherwise, most test results are reviewed with you at your next scheduled appointment.

This information was provided by the specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic. Readers are encouraged to research trustworthy organizations for information. Please talk with your physician for websites and sources that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of this issue and its treatments.

For additional information on treatment options or to schedule a consultation please fill out the Request an Appointment form below.

Request an Appointment