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What is Sonography (Ultrasound) – Types, Benefits & Risks

Ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging is a harmless and noninvasive medical test, which allows physicians to diagnose the medical condition of the patient without unnecessary pricking of the skin or piercing of the body parts.

What is Ultrasound:

Ultrasound imaging, commonly called sonography involves exposing body parts to high-frequency sound waves to see images of the inner parts of the body. Examination by ultrasound, as opposed to X-rays, never involves the use of ionizing radiation. The images are captured in real-time.

Types Of Ultrasound:

The usual ultrasound examination is made with a transducer (ultrasound probe) on the skin. Although, sometimes the technicians and doctors can get a much better image by inserting the probe into one of the body’s natural openings:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound: Inserting the probe into the vagina allows the examination of the uterus and the ovary 
  • Transrectal ultrasound:  Inserting the probe into the rectum allows the examination of the prostate
  • Transesophageal echo:  Inserting the probe into the esophagus to allows the examination of the heart and the esophagus

Uses of Ultrasound imaging:

Ultrasound can be used to examine most of the internal body organs including:

  • The liver
  • The bladder
  • The pancreas
  • The eyes
  • The spleen
  • The heart
  • Glands, like the thyroid and parathyroid
  • The reproductive organs, including ovaries, uterus, and covering of the testicles (scrotum)

Ultrasound imaging can also be applied to guide needles into the body for obtaining biopsies.

Benefits and risks

Benefits

  • Most ultrasound examinations are noninvasive (no needles or injections), meaning that they are painless.
  • Ultrasound testing is less expensive compared to other methods of imaging, is widely available, and is very easy to carry out.
  • Ultrasound imaging never exposes you to cell damage, as no ionizing radiation is used.
  • Soft tissues that are hard to see on images from X-rays can be examined on ultrasound scans.
  • With real-time imaging, an ultrasound is an excellent tool to use as a guide in minimally invasive procedures, such as needle aspiration and needle biopsies.

Risks

There are no reported harmful effects of a standard diagnostic ultrasound.

Limitations

  • The bowel and any organ hidden by the intestine cannot be examined because gas or air blocks ultrasound waves. 
  • Scanning overweight patients can be challenging because of the fat tissue. 
  • Ultrasound waves cannot easily pass through the bones in the body.

Conclusion:

Ultrasound is a painless and non-dangerous diagnostic tool. It is used to examine internal body organs. 

References:

  1. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-an-ultrasound?page=2#1
  2. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=genus
  3. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Ultrasound-scan/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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