Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a special imaging tool that allows doctors to see details about soft tissue in the body.

You may be familiar with the use of ultrasound to monitor pregnancy, but it has many other uses. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves sent through a probe or transducer, which the tissues echo back. The transducer records the echoes and creates a picture of the area in shades of gray.

Ultrasound is excellent for evaluating an area while it's moving.

How Does Ultrasound Work?

High-frequency sound waves emitted from a transducer (probe or wand-like device) flow through the skin and into the body until they hit the boundary between tissues. Boundaries arise from the difference between fluid and soft tissue and soft tissue and bone.

The denser the object that is hit by the sound waves, the more it echoes. Shades of gray on a monitor show density differences. As some sound waves reflect, others continue to travel through the tissue until they reach another boundary.

The speed, direction, and distance traveled by the sound waves differ according to the boundaries hit, and the shape or intensity of the echoes depends on how that tissue absorbs or reflects the sound waves.

Most ultrasound waves pass more readily through air and fluid-filled structures, sending back faint echoes. The waves reflect more from solid tumors and bones, creating darker images on the monitor. Using ultrasound, a technician can image anything from tumors to eggs in a patient’s ovaries.

What Can Ultrasound Detect?

If you come to the ER with pain, swelling, or other symptoms, an ultrasound can help determine the cause. Ultrasounds can identify:

    • Kidney stones
    • Kidney infections, cysts, or obstructions
    • Gallstones
    • Liver disease
    • Problems with the spleen, pancreas, and thyroid
    • Heart valve issues and congestive heart failure
    • Brain, hip, and spine problems in babies

    Ultrasound Safety

    Ultrasound has been around for over 60 years. It’s considered a safe diagnostic technique with no known risks. It doesn’t use radiation like X-rays and is versatile, portable, and noninvasive. Ultrasounds are inexpensive test that provide real-time information about your body.

    Like all technologies, ultrasound has a few limitations. Gas and air can disrupt ultrasound waves, resulting in distortions when checking air-filled bowel or organs obscured by the bowel. The same issue makes ultrasound a poor method of checking lungs, although it can detect fluid around or within the lungs.

    Ultrasound is a safe, non-invasive method of learning about the body without surgery.

    Uses for Emergency Ultrasound

    Ultrasound imaging is ordered for a variety of problems patients present, including:

      • Abdominal pain
      • Pelvic pain
      • Pregnancy sprains
      • Fractures
      • Other conditions not easily imaged with X-rays

      Fast and Painless

      Most patients can easily tolerate an ultrasound procedure. Typically, you lie face up on an exam table. The area to be inspected is prepared with a special gel that allows the transducer to move smoothly and freely while making secure contact without air bubbles.

      The technician uses light pressure to hold the transducer against your skin. In some exams, the technician may attach a probe to the transducer to see images of a patient’s heart, prostate, or uterus.

      The procedure takes about 30 minutes to an hour, and a radiologist interprets the images in a report to the ER physician.

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