Using high-frequency sound waves to produce images of soft tissue structures in your body.

What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to create images of internal organs such as the stomach, heart, tendons, muscles, joints and blood vessels.

Ultrasounds are used to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. This includes:

  • diagnosing problems with the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and kidneys
  • evaluating blood flow
  • guiding a needle for biopsy or tumour treatment
  • examining a breast lump
  • checking the thyroid gland
  • detecting genital and prostate problems
  • assessing joint inflammation (synovitis)
  • evaluating metabolic bone disease
  • diagnosing gynaecological or bladder conditions

Ultrasound scans are usually carried out by sonographers, except for vascular ultrasound (Doppler ultrasound) scans which are always carried out by a specially trained vascular scientist.

Please note, we don't offer ultrasounds to check foetal development during pregnancy.

How to prepare

Most ultrasound scans require no preparation.

There are a few exceptions:

  • Gallbladder ultrasound – you may not be able to eat or drink for up to six hours before the exam.
  • Pelvic ultrasound – you might need to drink up to six glasses of water two hours before the exam and not urinate until the exam is completed.

How is ultrasound carried out?

Your doctor or sonographer applies a water-based gel to your skin to prevent air pockets interfering with the sound waves. You may find the gel to be cold. Scans normally take between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the type of scan you are having.

They press a small hand-held device (transducer or wand) against your skin and move it slowly over the area they examining to get the best images.

An ultrasound can also be on a probe that is inserted into your body.

The transducer sends sound waves into your body, collects the ones that bounce back and sends them to a computer, which creates the images of the inside of your body. These can be seen on a monitor.

What happens afterwards?

Your doctor will look at the images and explain the results to you.

You will be able to return to normal activities immediately after an ultrasound.

"I would like to thank everyone at Cromwell Hospital for the fantastic way you looked after me. I could not fault anyone during the time I spent with you - from the point I arrived in reception, to the catering team and every member of staff throughout the changes of shift during my stay."

Anonymous, Cromwell Hospital patient

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Please note - regrettably we are unable to answer specific medical questions or offer medical advice via email or telephone.