General and Vascular Ultrasound

What is an ultrasound?

An ultrasound procedure is a noninvasive (the skin is not pierced) diagnostic procedure used to assess soft tissue structures such as muscles, blood vessels, and organs.

Ultrasound uses a transducer that sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed at certain locations and angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the organs and structures within. The sound waves bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer picks up the reflected waves, which are then converted by a computer into an electronic picture of the organs or tissues under study.

Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function (in "real time," like a live TV broadcast), and to assess blood flow through various vessels. Ultrasound procedures are often used to examine many parts of the body such as the abdomen, breasts, female pelvis, prostate, scrotum, thyroid and parathyroid glands, and the vascular system. During pregnancy, ultrasounds are performed to evaluate the development of the fetus.

Before the procedure

  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
  • Any prior preparation, such as fasting or sedation, will be determined by the specific area to be examined. Your doctor will give you instructions if required.
  • Although the gel applied to the skin during the procedure does not stain clothing, you may wish to wear older clothing, as the gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterwards.

During the procedure

An abdominal ultrasound may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.

Generally, an abdominal ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan.
  2. If asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
  3. You will lie on an examination table. You will lie either on your back or on your stomach, depending on the specific area of the abdomen to be examined.
  4. A clear gel will be placed on the skin over the area to be examined.
  5. The transducer will be pressed against the skin and moved around over the area being studied.
  6. If blood flow is being assessed, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
  7. Once the procedure has been completed, the gel will be wiped off.

While the abdominal ultrasound procedure itself causes no pain, having to lie still for the length of the procedure may cause slight discomfort, and the clear gel will feel cool and wet. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort.

After the procedure

There is no special care required after an abdominal ultrasound. You may resume your usual diet and activities unless your doctor advises you differently. Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

 

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