What is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound (also called a sonogram) is a diagnostic technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the organs, fluids and blood flow and systems within the body. A handheld instrument placed on the skin sends the sound waves through the body. Echoes from the sound waves are picked up and translated by a computer into a black and white image on a computer screen. This test is painless and does not expose you to radiation. Prenatal ultrasounds and breast ultrasounds are two of the most common ultrasounds preformed at Woman's.

Prenatal Ultrasound

An ultrasound can be done as needed per your doctor's orders and is generally performed for all pregnant women. An anatomy ultrasound is usually completed around 18–20 weeks of pregnancy. All ultrasounds at Woman's Hospital are diagnostic. Elective prenatal ultrasounds for gender reveals are not offered by Woman's.

Doctors commonly use ultrasound to:

  • Determine how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.
  • Confirm the health and growth of the fetus.
  • Observe the size, shape, movement and position of the developing baby.
  • Check heartbeat and kidney function.
  • Detect problems, birth defects or other abnormalities in organs or tissues.

Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound is useful for evaluating and diagnosing some breast masses that are found on a mammogram or on a physical exam. It has become a valuable tool because it is widely available, non-invasive and costs less than other options.

This test helps distinguish between cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and solid masses and sometimes can help tell the difference between benign and cancerous tumors. Still, ultrasound cannot be used instead of mammograms for breast cancer screening.

Breast ultrasound may also be used to help doctors guide a biopsy needle into some breast lesions.

What to Expect During an Ultrasound

An ultrasound can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. You will lie down on a table, and the technologist will put a gel on your skin and move the transducer over the area. During the test the technologist or the doctor moves the transducer as it is firmly pressed to your skin. You may feel slight pressure from the transducer, but you won’t hear the high-frequency sounds or feel any pain.

An ultrasound usually takes 20 to 30 minutes, but the length of time depends on the type of exam.