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Ultrasonography is a diagnostic technique that involves directing high frequency sound waves at tissues in the body to generate images of anatomical structures. Ultrasonography is also called sonography, diagnostic sonography, and echocardiography when it is used to image the heart.
Ultrasonography has a variety of uses in medical diagnostics. It is most well suited for imaging soft tissues that are solid and uniform or filled with fluid. It does not perform well when imaging calcified objects such as bone or objects filled with air like the bowel. Some of the more common uses for ultrasonography include imaging fetus development during pregnancy, diagnosing gallbladder disease and some forms of cancer, and evaluating abnormalities in the scrotum and prostate, heart, and thyroid gland. Ultrasound can also be used to perform breast exams. A technique called Doppler imaging ultrasonography can also be used to view the movement of blood through blood vessels and to guide needles through anatomical structures for obtaining specimens for biopsy. Three-dimensional ultrasounds provide detailed images of fetuses in the uterus.
The majority of ultrasonic exams are performed externally by running a transducer over the surface of the skin. Usually a gel is applied to the skin on which the transducer will glide during the exam. The gel helps prevent the formation of air pockets between the transducer and the skin that interfere with the ultrasonic signal. Some ultrasound diagnostic tests require the insertion of a probe into a body orifice. For example, during a trans-esophageal echocardiogram a specialized transducer is placed in the esophagus to better image the heart. Trans-rectal exams require a transducer to be inserted into a man's rectum to obtain images of the prostate. Transvaginal ultrasounds are used to provide images of a woman's ovaries and uterus or of a fetus during the early weeks of pregnancy.
Ultrasound is generally a painless procedure. Some discomfort may be felt when the transducer is pressed against the skin or when the transducer is inserted in the body. Most ultrasonic procedures take less than half of an hour.
Author Info: Juli M. Berwald PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders, 2005This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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