What is Ultrasonography?

Ultrasonography uses high-frequency sound (ultrasound) waves to produce images of internal organs and other tissues. A device called a transducer converts electrical current into sound waves, which are sent into the body’s tissues. Sound waves bounce off structures in the body and are reflected back to the transducer, which converts the waves into electrical signals. A computer converts the pattern of electrical signals into an image, which is displayed on a monitor and recorded on film, on videotape, or as a digital computer image. No x-rays are used.

Ultrasonography is painless, relatively inexpensive, and considered very safe, even during pregnancy.

Procedure for Ultrasonography

If the abdomen is being examined, people may be asked to refrain from eating and drinking for several hours before the test.

Usually, the examiner places thick gel on the skin over the area to be examined to ensure good sound transmission. A handheld transducer is placed on the skin and moved over the area to be evaluated. To evaluate some body parts, the examiner inserts the transducer into the body—for example, into the vagina to better image the uterus and ovaries or into the anus to image the prostate gland.

To evaluate the heart, the examiner sometimes attaches the transducer to a viewing tube called an endoscope and passes it down the throat into the esophagus. This procedure is called transesophageal echocardiography.

Variations of Ultrasonography

Ultrasound information can be displayed in several ways.

This display mode is the simplest; signals are recorded as spikes on a graph. The vertical (Y) axis of the display shows the echo amplitude, and the horizontal (X) axis shows depth or distance into the patient. This type of ultrasonography is used for ophthalmologic scanning.

B-mode (gray-scale)
This mode is most often used in diagnostic imaging; signals are displayed as a 2-dimensional anatomic image. B-mode is commonly used to evaluate the developing fetus and to evaluate organs, including the liver, spleen, kidneys, thyroid gland, testes, breasts, uterus, ovaries, and prostate gland. B-mode ultrasonography is fast enough to show real-time motion, such as the motion of the beating heart or pulsating blood vessels. Real-time imaging provides anatomic and functional information.

This mode is used to image moving structures; signals reflected by the moving structures are converted into waves that are displayed continuously across a vertical axis. M-mode is used primarily for assessment of fetal heartbeat and, in cardiac imaging, most notably to evaluate valvular disorders.