Common Ultrasound Exams for Women’s Health

Technician uses handheld ultrasound device
Most women are familiar with ultrasounds for supplemental breast cancer screenings and pregnancy imaging, but what are the other occasions when a physician might order an ultrasound exam for women? Learn more about the life-saving capabilities these ultrasound exams provide.

How Ultrasounds Work

Ultrasounds use a combination of sound waves and computer technology to create internal images that doctors and patients seek. Ultrasounds are often used as a preliminary method of imaging. This means that when doctors suspect a problem and think that it is an area that the ultrasound will be able to view, they will use this method first because ultrasounds aren’t invasive or have side effects. Ultrasounds examine the internal organs, tissues and blood flow throughout the body, determining the blood flow through the heart, imaging breast tissue and guiding biopsy needles.

Almost any part of the body can undergo an ultrasound exam which makes it a faithful go-to for doctors.

These Are the Ultrasound Exams Many Women Receive

BREAST CARE: Ultrasound of the breast may be used for women who are at high risk for breast cancer or women who are pregnant and should not be exposed to x-rays used in a mammogram. Ultrasound of the breast can also be used to screen women who have dense breast tissue, meaning there are a lot of ducts, glands, fibrous tissue and less fat making it harder to find cancers with a mammogram.

HEART HEALTH: A major benefit that ultrasounds can provide for women is helping women determine their possibility of heart attack or stroke. Both of these conditions occur when the blood flow to the brain or heart is blocked. By using ultrasound technology, doctors can hear problems like weak valves, blockages, and murmurs. Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world and the highest killer of women around the world. The best way to combat this statistic, besides better health, diet, and exercise, is to have regularly scheduled check-ups with your primary care physician. As you get older, your doctor will likely recommend several kinds of tests to determine your cardiac health, so don’t forget to sign up for a cardiac ultrasound. The ability to see movement via ultrasound is particularly beneficial for those women concerned with their cardiac health as the movement of blood will be the biggest indicator of that problem.

PELVIC: In women, a pelvic ultrasound is most often performed to evaluate these parts of the body:

  • uterus
  • cervix
  • ovaries
  • fallopian tubes
  • bladder

Ultrasound examinations can help diagnose symptoms experienced by women such as:

  • pelvic pain
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • other menstrual problems

Ultrasound exams also help identify:

  • palpable masses such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids
  • ovarian or uterine cancers

PREGNANCY: Ultrasounds are the best form of medical imaging for expectant mothers because ultrasounds are non-invasive and do not have the concern of radiation. Mothers can see their baby’s outline, hear their heartbeat and determine their child’s health.

TRANSVAGINAL: These exams go across or through the vagina (the genital canal in the female, extending from the uterus to the vulva).
A transvaginal ultrasound is usually performed to view the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) and the ovaries. Transvaginal ultrasound also evaluates the myometrium (muscular walls of the uterus). Sonohysterography allows for a more in-depth investigation of the uterine cavity. These exams are typically performed to detect:

  • uterine anomalies
  • uterine scars
  • endometrial polyps
  • fibroids
  • cancer, especially in patients with abnormal uterine bleeding

Learn More About Ultrasound Exams

Common Ultrasound Exams and How They Help

Ultrasounds are a very common form of medical imaging. They are painless, offer no risk of radiation, and can provide details of the interior of the body without making a single incision. However, there are various kinds of ultrasounds that can be administered for different parts of the body for different conditions.

Most people are aware of ultrasounds in relation to pregnancy. Ultrasounds use sonar power or sound waves in order to create images of internal organs without having to make incisions or use contrast material. Sound waves reverberate off the organs and bones and the ultrasound machine interprets the change in sound waves and uses computer technology to make an image. Because of the comfort on the part of the patient in concert with the information gleaned for doctors, ultrasounds are now able to do so much more.

Common Ultrasound Exams and How They Help You and Your Doctor

Ultrasound exams can determine problems like internal bleeding, vascular problems, and reproductive or sexual issues.

  • Abdomen: Most often ultrasound is used in the abdomen to see the abdominal aorta, bladder, liver, pancreas, and spleen.
    These exams will help your physician investigate blockages, pain, enlargement, malformation, narrowing of vessels, tumors, or abnormal function.
  • Appendix: When bacteria in the appendix are blocked from leaving, the appendix becomes irritated. Ultrasounds can help doctors determine the extent of the infection.
  • Carotid Doppler: Doppler ultrasound can map the movement of blood through veins in the body. This is extremely useful if there is a possible blockage in the vein. Blood blockages are what cause conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, amputations, and other kinds of problems. The most common places to perform a Doppler ultrasound are at the neck and abdominal arteries leading to and from the brain and heart, mainly the aortic and carotid arteries. During this exam, the transducer (ultrasound wand) is held against the neck with ultrasound gel to prevent air pockets from forming as sound cannot penetrate the air. Patients report hearing pulse-like sounds when the procedure is happening. A carotid Doppler ultrasound differs from other forms of ultrasound because it measures the direction and speed of blood cells as they move throughout the vessels. The movement causes a change in the pitch of reverberating sound waves. This way doctors can tell if there is a blockage or damage to the vessel that could be detrimental to the healthy blood flow needed in the body. If you are concerned about cardiovascular health or high blood pressure, your doctor might consider having one of these ultrasounds performed. If you are aware that you are at high risk for heart attack or stroke, having crucial medical information gained from ultrasounds could save your life.
  • DVT: Clots that occur in larger veins are called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots can also occur in smaller veins that are closer to the skin. Symptoms of blood clots in the legs and arms vary and may include pain or cramping, swelling, tenderness, warmth to the touch and bluish- or red-colored skin. A blood clot can be life-threatening depending on the location and severity. Venous ultrasound: This test is usually the first step for confirming a venous blood clot. Sound waves are used to create a view of your veins. A Doppler ultrasound may be used to help visualize blood flow through your veins. If the results of the ultrasound are inconclusive, venography or MR angiography may be used.
  • Gallbladder: Ultrasounds can determine the presence of gallstones which form when bits of cholesterol and others materials in bile combine to form solid masses.
  • Kidney and Kidney Stones: Kidney and bladder stones are solid build-ups of crystals made from minerals and proteins found in urine. Certain bladder conditions and urinary tract infections can increase your chance of developing stones. Your doctor may use an abdominal and pelvic CT scan, intravenous pyelogram, or abdominal or pelvic ultrasound to help diagnose your condition. If a kidney stone becomes lodged in the ureter or urethra, it can cause constant severe pain in the back or side, vomiting, hematuria (blood in the urine), fever, or chills.
  • Thyroid: Ultrasounds use sound waves in order to interpret the inner happenings of the body, including checking to see if the thyroid contains a cyst or tumor.
  • Vascular: Vascular ultrasound uses sound waves to evaluate the body’s circulatory system and help identify blockages in the arteries and veins and detect blood clots. A Doppler ultrasound study – a technique that evaluates blood flow through a blood vessel – is usually part of this exam. This exam can help your doctor determine whether a patient is a good candidate for angioplasty procedures. Doctors use this exam to diagnose and evaluate varicose veins.
  • Venous (i.e., Extremities) : Venous ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of the veins in the body. It is commonly used to search for blood clots, especially in the veins of the leg. This condition is often referred to as deep vein thrombosis or DVT (see above). A venous ultrasound study is also performed to determine the cause of long-standing leg swelling.

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Learn More About Ultrasound Exams