Ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves, not radiation, to assess body structures. A technologist applies gel over the area of interest and presses an ultrasound transducer onto the skin. The transducer generates sound waves that bounce off body tissues, producing echoes that are then recorded by a computer to be used to make an image for the radiologist to examine called a sonogram.
What is an Ultrasound Exam?
An ultrasound exam, also known as diagnostic sonography, is a non-invasive imaging procedure that uses sound waves to assess internal structures such as muscles, tendons, joints, and other internal organs. These high-frequency sound waves, administered by an ultrasound technologist, are inaudible to humans and work by bouncing off of structures inside the body and back. This creates real-time images or videos often shown on a display screen nearby.
As a medical imaging patient, the human touch of your ultrasound technologist, also called a diagnostic sonographer, can dramatically impact how you experience an ultrasound procedure. You can count on Insight Medical Imaging to recruit only the best diagnostic medical sonographers from all over the country to perform our imaging exams.
Common Medical Ultrasound Imaging Procedures
While many other evaluations utilize ultrasound diagnostics, the most familiar form of ultrasounds is the obstetric ultrasound procedure for pregnant women.
Ultrasound is also commonly used to examine the:
What To Expect
Although some protocol differs depending on what body part is being examined, here are the general guidelines on what to expect during your ultrasound exam:
- Depending on your clothing, you may be asked to change into a gown or scrubs for easier access to the area being examined
- Our technologists will apply a warm, hypoallergenic gel in order to maintain contact between the probe and your skin
- The transducer, or probe, will be moved around with moderate pressure to obtain diagnostic images
- This pressure should not cause any pain. Please inform your technologist of any discomfort
- You may be asked to change positions throughout the exam in order to obtain the best possible images
- After the exam is done, our radiologists will review the results and send a detailed report to your doctor, usually within one business day
For more information on what to expect for your specific ultrasound exam, please visit our exam preparation page!
Ultrasounds as a Radiation-Free Alternative
Diagnostic ultrasounds are generally one of the safest methods of medical imaging, using high-frequency sound waves to generate images for diagnosis rather than exposing the body to some level of radiation. Doctors will often refer patients to get ultrasounds to ensure they are able to reach a clear and conclusive diagnosis. They might also refer you for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam, which utilizes a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce images, as an alternative form of imaging.
If you may be or are currently pregnant, please inform your doctor prior to scheduling an ultrasound appointment.
How Tissue Composition May Influence Your Ultrasound
- Sound waves cannot pass through hard, dense objects, such as bone or calcifications
- Gas in the gastrointestinal (GI) system and bowel is a strong sound-wave reflector that negatively impacts transmission and can create reverberation artifacts during imaging
- The deeper something is inside your body, the less likely ultrasound waves will penetrate the tissue with the same efficiency
How to Prepare
As there are many types of ultrasound procedures, the way you prepare will differ from one exam to the next. Generally, we ask all of our ultrasound imaging patients, including pelvic and obstetric ultrasound exams, to drink four (8 oz.) glasses of water an hour before their ultrasound exam starts. You may also be asked to not go to the washroom until the exam is over or until the sonographer says it’s ok to do so. Fasting may also be required.
For more information on how to prepare, consult with your doctor/sonographer or visit our Exam Preparation page.
The Medical Exam Preparation Timeline
We understand it can be difficult and uncomfortable to fast or to drink a large volume of water without relief. Rest assured, we will do our best to get you in on time for your exam and, if possible, perform parts of the exam that require a full bladder first. We also recommend using the pictured timeline below as a reference for how to prepare for your exam.
To reduce any possible discomfort from drinking water too early or continuing to drink right up until your exam, we suggest that you drink all four (8oz) glasses of water in a 30-minute window. If you are in an uncomfortable amount of pain from drinking water, tell our receptionists or sonographers. Sometimes you can release a little urine before your exam.
Once the exam is complete, you may resume your normal activities and diet unless your doctor or sonographer instructs you otherwise.
Please consult with your doctor once they have received a detailed report on the results of your ultrasound. For obstetric ultrasound exams, we will be able to print or send digital photos to your cell phone or email for maximum convenience.
This window should start 90 minutes before your appointment and will allow our staff to capture high-quality images during your procedure in a quick and efficient manner.
Internal Ultrasound Procedure
Certain ultrasound exams for women may require additional imaging in the form of an internal exam. These scans are performed transvaginally and give our radiologists more detailed images for diagnosis. Typically, we conduct internal ultrasounds on women who have a pelvic, renal, obstetric or combined abdomen/pelvic appointment.
For the comfort of our patients during this portion of the ultrasound exam, patients can request female sonographers at the time of booking. However, it is important to understand that we may not always be able to meet this request due to the volume of exams and staffing limitations.
Please be reassured that if a male sonographer is assigned to perform your ultrasound exam, a female colleague will be in the room with you to chaperon.
Benefits of Ultrasound Guidance Over Traditional Guidance
Ultrasound guidance offers the following benefits:
- Zero exposure to ionizing radiation
- Longer insertion window
- Improved needle placement accuracy
- Reduced risk of injury to neighbouring anatomy
- Real-time confirmation of procedural success
In addition, ultrasound imaging is highly useful for visualizing musculoskeletal anatomy and guiding interventional radiology procedures, such as biopsy, in real-time.
Insight Medical Imaging uses ultrasound guidance for many intervention procedures, such as core and aspiration biopsy and wire localization, as well as pain management injections. Click here to learn more about ultrasound-guided biopsy, including the preparation, how it is commonly performed, and more.
Providing Alberta with Ultrasounds At Our Medical Imaging Clinics
We have 12 locations in Alberta that offer ultrasound exams and other medical procedures. For your ultrasound examination needs, visit our locations at Castledowns, Heritage, Hermitage, Lendrum, Meadowlark Diagnostic, Millwoods, Oliver Square, West End, Leduc, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, or Fort McMurray.
Ultrasound Services are Available At These Locations:
Although there can be discomfort from consuming the necessary amount of water before your medical imaging ultrasound exam, ultrasound is a non-invasive and safe procedure.
At Insight Medical Imaging, our goal is to act as a catalyst for change, offer services and expertise not found elsewhere, and connect in a meaningful way. We pride ourselves on being a part of your journey and we take the time to create open communication and build relationships with our patients, physicians, and employees. In short, we strive to humanize the healthcare experience by listening, answering questions, and being there when needed.
Yes! We can print, send, or email you some of your ultrasound images at your request. Our radiologist will send your doctor a detailed report once your results have been examined.
We ask that you have a full bladder before a pelvic ultrasound so that the uterus is in a position to be more visible and so that the intestines and bowel are not restricting ultrasound imaging.
Although the length of the exam can vary depending on the complexity, the average time for an ultrasound is 30 minutes.
Since there are no after-effects from an ultrasound, you may resume your normal activities, diet, and medications unless instructed otherwise by the technologist or your doctor.
Before your sonographer begins the scan, they will apply a warm lubricating substance to the area of interest. This substance is known as ultrasound transmission gel.
During your imaging exam, the ultrasound probe is pushed against this gel to help capture medical images. The gel used is hypoallergenic, non-irritating, and non-sensitizing, so you are unlikely to have a reaction.
The way in which ultrasound transmission gel operates is by reducing the acoustic impedance and conducting the sound waves between the probe and your body. Ultimately, the ultrasound transmission gel creates a bridge between the probe and your tissue, allowing for clear transmission of medical images during your exam.
Some ultrasound exams require special preparation, such as drinking water before the procedure. While this may seem like an odd request, it is a very important detail to ensure your ultrasound procedure goes as well as possible. We instruct patients to drink and finish four (8oz) glasses of water before their ultrasound exam appointment, and not urinate. Drinking this amount of water forces your urinary bladder to expand, pressing the uterus up and moving other organs, such as the bowel, out of the way.
If you do not drink the correct amount of water or you urinate before the ultrasound scan, your bladder will shrink and contract, making it difficult to examine the walls. The water inside your expanded bladder also allows the high-frequency sound waves to penetrate deeper into your abdomen, beyond the rigid, bony pelvic structure. Essentially, the water moves your internal organs into a better position and provides a clear window for higher-quality ultrasound imaging.
Other ultrasound exams require that you fast (do not eat) for a certain period before your scan. Fasting ensures there is no digesting matter inside your stomach at the time of your scan. Digesting food in your stomach is dense, so sound waves have a harder time penetrating and creating a clear image.
Talk to your diagnostic sonographer or physician for more information about preparing for your ultrasound procedure.
Planning your next appointment? Learn more about ultrasound exam preparation and find the clinic most convenient for you.
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