Health care professionals use ultrasounds for a variety of reasons, including

  • Observing organs as they function
  • Testing blood flow through blood vessels
  • Seeing many parts of the body, such as the abdomen, breasts, pelvis, prostate, scrotum, thyroid, and network of blood vessels

What will happen during my child's ultrasound?

Your child will go to a special room for the exam and lie on a comfortable bed. The room may be a little dark so that the technologist doing the exam can see the pictures clearly on a TV screen. A small amount of gel will be put on your child's skin in the area to be checked.

A transducer, which looks like a microphone, will be attached to the ultrasound machine. The technologist performing the ultrasound will gently move the transducer over your child's skin. This will not hurt. The machine takes pictures and saves them to a computer so the doctor can review them later. Your child must remain very still during the ultrasound. The ultrasound should take 15 to 60 minutes. If you have any questions during the procedure, please ask.

Your child's primary care doctor will receive the results within 24 hours. He or she will share the results with you and your family. You will not receive results from the technologist who performed the procedure.

Preparing your child for an ultrasound

The area of the body needing an ultrasound will determine how you should prepare your child. Some exams require that children drink a lot of water. Other exams require that children not eat breakfast the morning of the exam. For other ultrasound exams, you do not need to do anything special to prepare your child. You will receive detailed instructions for preparing your child before the ultrasound. Here are some general guidelines:

How you get your child ready depends upon what body part needs to be checked. The doctor or nurse will give you special instructions for your child. It is important that you follow these instructions.

If your child has had a barium or other X-ray study within the last 48 hours, let the doctor know.

If your child is told to have nothing to eat or drink before the test, follow these directions:

  • 0 to 6 months old: nothing to eat or drink three hours before the test
  • 7 months to 3 years old: nothing to eat or drink four hours before the test
  • 4 to 6 years old: nothing to eat or drink six hours before the test
  • 7 years and older: nothing to eat or drink eight hours before the test

Please note: It is important that you follow these directions. If your child eats or drinks anything after the times listed above, the test may be cancelled.

Learn more about preparing for your child's ultrasound (PDF).

How are ultrasounds performed?

Ultrasounds may be done on an outpatient basis, or as part of inpatient care. Although each hospital may have specific protocols in place, generally, an ultrasound procedure follows this process:

  • A gel-like substance is smeared on the area of the body to undergo the ultrasound (the gel acts as a conducer).
  • Using a transducer, a tool that sends ultrasound waves, the ultrasound is sent through the patient's body.
  • The sound from the transducer is reflected off structures inside the body, and the information from the sounds are analyzed by a computer.
  • The computer then creates a picture of these structures on a television screen. The moving pictures can be recorded on film videotape.
  • There are no confirmed adverse biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposures to ultrasound.

What are the different types of ultrasound?

Different ultrasound techniques exist for different conditions. Examples of some of the more common types of ultrasound examinations include the following:

  • Doppler ultrasound - used to see structures inside the body, while evaluating blood flow at the same time. Doppler ultrasound can determine if there are any problems within the veins and arteries.
  • Vascular ultrasound - used to see the vascular system and its function, including detection of blood clots.
  • Echocardiogram - used to see the heart and its valves, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the heart's pumping ability.
  • Abdominal ultrasound - used to detect any abnormalities of the abdominal organs (i.e., kidneys, liver, pancreas, gallbladder), such as gallstones or tumors.
  • Renal ultrasound - used to examine the kidneys and urinary tract.
  • Obstetrical ultrasound - used to monitor the development of the fetus.
  • Pelvic ultrasound - used to find the cause of pelvic pain, such as an ectopic pregnancy in women, or to detect tumors or masses.
  • Breast ultrasound - used to examine a mass in the breast tissue.
  • Thyroid ultrasound - used to see the thyroid and to detect any abnormalities.
  • Scrotal ultrasound - used to further investigate pain in the testicles.
  • Prostate ultrasound - used to examine any nodules felt during a physical examination.
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound - used to examine any joint or muscle pain for conditions, such as a tear.
  • Interventional ultrasound - used to help the surgeon during a minimally invasive operation or biopsy.
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