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What is it?

  • An ultrasound is safe and painless test using sound waves to look at different parts of your body. Your internal organs (heart, liver, spleen, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, uterus and bladder) can be examined with ultrasound. This test also looks at lymph nodes or blood vessels. Images of the body part or area being tested show up on a TV-like screen.

  • Ultrasound images can show movement of internal organs. Ultrasound can also show blood flow. This is called a Doppler ultrasound. An ultrasound is not an x-ray and does not use radiation. This test usually takes 10 to 30 minutes.

Why do I need an ultrasound? An ultrasound may be done for many reasons. Caregivers may be trying to find the cause of a problem or symptom you are having. If you are pregnant, an ultrasound may be done to look at your baby inside your uterus. Tumors, gallstones, or heart defects may also be seen in an ultrasound. An ultrasound can be used to guide a needle to get a tissue biopsy from an organ for testing.

How does the ultrasound work? A caregiver uses a wand called a transducer. The transducer may also be called a probe. It is connected to the ultrasound machine. The transducer sends and receives sound waves as it is moved over your skin. The sound waves bounce off or "echo" against the organs inside your body.

  • The echoes are then sent through the machine and are changed into an image on the TV screen. Sound waves cannot go through air, bone or gas in the bowel. And, sound waves may have a hard time going through your body if you weigh too much.

  • Picture images that are seen on the TV-type screen can also be made into snapshot-size copies. These copies can be given to your caregiver.

What happens during the ultrasound?

  • The ultrasound may be done in your hospital room, in your caregiver's office, or in an exam room. You are asked to put on a gown and then a caregiver helps you lie on a table or bed.

  • Gel is put on your skin over or near the area being tested. The gel removes any air that may be between you and the transducer. Gel also helps to send the sound waves into your body. A caregiver gently moves the transducer in many directions over the skin. Try to lie still during the ultrasound. But, you can talk to the caregiver while the ultrasound is being done. The caregiver removes the gel after the test and you can get dressed.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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