What Is It?

Ultrasound scanning, also called sonography, is a technique used to see tissues and organs inside the body. It uses high-frequency sound waves, which cannot be heard by humans, to produce images of structures inside the body. The process is very similar to the way sonar is used by dolphins or submarines to detect objects. When sound waves are aimed into the body, some are absorbed by body tissues and others bounce back. The sound waves that bounce back are measured by the ultrasound machine, and are transformed into an image of a particular body area.

Ultrasound produces excellent images of organs that are soft or filled with fluid, but it is less effective for examining air-filled organs or bones. Ultrasound is a safe and painless test that usually takes 15 to 30 minutes.

What It's Used For

The most common use of ultrasound is to evaluate the progress of the fetus during pregnancy. Ultrasound also is used to determine if a lump is a cyst, to look at the size and shape of abdominal and pelvic organs, to detect gallstones, and to look for blood clots in the legs. Ultrasound can be used as a guide when a needle is being inserted into the body to take a sample of tissue for a biopsy or to take a fluid sample as is done in amniocentesis, a test to detect abnormalities in the fetus.

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