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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