If you’ve never had an Ultrasound, you may be a little nervous. But there is no need to be afraid, as an ultrasound is a non-invasive and painless procedure. Knowing what to expect during your exam will help you to be prepared and feel at ease.
What is an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging procedure which uses sonography – the process of using high-frequency sound waves to create images. Dolphins, whales, and bats do the same thing with echolocation. The use of sound waves, as opposed to x-rays, magnetic fields, or radiation tracers, makes ultrasounds safer and cheaper than any other widely used imaging technique, which is why you likely only associate the procedure with maternal exams – it’s the safest to use to monitor a developing fetus.
However, ultrasounds have many and varied uses. A trained sonographer can use ultrasound equipment as a diagnostic tool for looking at various organs or checking potentially cancerous breast lumps; the technique can also be used to help guide a needle in order to take a biopsy or treat tumors or cysts. There are limitations to the functionality of an ultrasound, but zero known risks, which make it a good first step in most diagnostic endeavors.
Before Your Exam
There are very few instances in which an ultrasound will require specific preparation. The staff will notify you of any such requirements at the time your appointment is scheduled.
You may be asked to change into a gown, depending on the focal point of the exam.
You may be asked to remove jewelry in the area of the exam. You should consider leaving jewelry home on the day of your exam.
For some exams, such as a gallbladder exam, your doctor may ask you to not eat or drink for up to six hours beforehand.
Others, such as a pelvic ultrasound, may require a full bladder. You may need to drink up to six glasses of water in the hours leading up to the exam, and be prepared to wait until after the exam is over before relieving yourself.
If there are any other requests or requirements, you will be informed at the time that you schedule your appointment.
What to Expect During the Exam
For the majority of ultrasounds, the process is simple and involves lying on a table or in a reclined exam chair. A sonographer, a technician with specialized training in ultrasounds, will use a gel to lubricate your skin for a small handheld transducer, which will be moved about on your skin as the sonographer watches a screen and takes images and even measurements using the software attached to the machine. For most ultrasounds, the most unpleasant bit will be the initial gel application, which is typically cold on contact. Otherwise, some discomfort may be felt by those who are required to maintain a full bladder during an ultrasound.
The exam should take between fifteen and forty-five minutes, depending on the target of the imaging and how thorough the procedure needs to be.
There are a few situations where an ultrasound becomes a mildly invasive procedure. In each of these cases, most patients report pressure or discomfort, but not pain.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram: this involves a transducer wand being inserted into your esophagus. This is typically done to gain look at the heart. Most uses of this particular procedure involve a sedative.
- Transrectal ultrasound: this involves a transducer want being inserted into the rectum in order to image the prostate.
- Transvaginal ultrasound: this involves a transducer wand being inserted into the vagina in order to image the overies and uterus
What to Expect After the Ultrasound
You may return to regular activities right away. Your doctor will notify you of the results within a few days.
If you were sedated for a transesophageal echocardiogram, then you will need to allow the sedative to wear off and will not be allowed to drive. You will be notified of the sedative at the time your appointment is scheduled, and advised to procure alternative transportation to and from the appointment.