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Ultrasound is a scanning technique that allows images of inside the body to be seen by using sound waves. When these waves collide with the different tissues in the body, they produce an echo that is translated into images. This technique is most commonly used in pregnancy, although it is also used to see organs such as the heart, the kidneys and the liver, as well as others. 

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a medical test that uses ultrasonic frequencies to obtain images of the body.

How does it work?

Ultrasound is an exploratory method that produces images of areas inside the body by means of ultrasonic waves. When these waves are directed towards the body’s different tissues they produce echoes which are translated into images. This technique does not produce any discomfort for the patient, as well as being harmless and inexpensive. Additionally, ultrasound is a real-time technique that allows doctors to observe the actual movement of the tissues, internal organs, circulating blood or movements in the intestines.

What is it used for?

It can diagnose a wide variety of conditions. It is best known for its application in monitoring pregnancies, but it is used in all medical specialties. Ultrasound cannot, however, be used to observe body structures that feature bones or air.

How is it performed?

Patients should stretch the area of interest. The healthcare professional then slides a probe, covered with a lubricating gel for ease of movement, across the skin in the region to be examined. The probe transmits and collects ultrasound waves that reflect off the organs, it then converts them into real-time images and displays them on the equipment’s screen.

How do I prepare for an ultrasound?

This depends on the type of ultrasound, but the majority do not require any preparation. Fasting may be required for the case of abdominal ultrasounds, while patients may need to drink water and resist the temptation to urinate before a renal vascular ultrasound test (used to analyse the kidneys, the excretory route, the urinary bladder and the prostate, in the case of men). In any case, the doctor will specify any preparations.

Special situations

Ultrasound is perhaps the most innocuous and painless test performed in the study of diseases. The ultrasound waves and the power at which they are used do not imply any risk whatsoever. That is why they are used in pregnant women. Children sometimes need to be sedated so that they do not move during the test.

Who performs the test?

Healthcare professionals will guide, assist and monitor the patient throughout the test. They will also ask the patient questions to obtain information that complements the images they observe.

Who interprets the results?

A specialist healthcare professional.

What can I expect to feel during the test?

You will not feel anything.

Substantiated information by:

Laura Oleaga Zufiría

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 22 February 2024


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