Ultrasound, also called sonography, is a type of medical imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to take pictures of body organs and soft tissue systems. It is considered safe with no known health side-effects because it does not expose the patient to ionizing radiation.
Ultrasound helps diagnose and treat many conditions. It can also help check the growth of a baby in the womb. It is performed on patients of all ages and can see soft tissues, internal organs, veins and arteries. One type of exam uses “Doppler technique,” which measures blood flow, direction and velocity, and helps see if blood vessels are blocked, causing abnormal flow or affecting vascular supply. You may hear a whooshing sound from the machine if this technique is used.
Ultrasound is also used for biopsies and drainages. Biopsies are ordered when your doctor wants to have a small piece of abnormal tissue and/or cells reviewed for a more precise diagnosis under a microscope. The ultrasound helps the radiologist view the area of interest, confirm that sampling was obtained from the proper location and avoid adjacent structures. Drainages are performed to make a diagnosis of the underlying cause of fluid collection or to actively remove the excess fluid.
Most ultrasound exams require no preparation. However, if you are receiving an ultrasound of the abdomen you may need to omit foods and liquids for up to six hours before your exam. If you are receiving a pelvic ultrasound, you may not urinate before the exam so that your bladder will be full. This allows for better pictures of the uterus, ovaries or prostate.
Instructions for your specific exam should have been provided to you at the time of booking, and are available in Mass General Brigham's Patient Gateway.
An ultrasound technologist will greet you after you have checked into the Radiology Department. All ultrasound technologists at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital have passed a certification exam in ultrasound by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The technologist will perform the exam and answer your questions.
Your exam will be read by a board-certified radiologist. A radiologist is a doctor trained to diagnose conditions seen on medical imaging studies. The radiologist will send the report to your ordering provider.
An ultrasound exam usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown. In the exam room, you will lay on a stretcher. The pictures are created by a hand-held probe called a transducer. The transducer is a camera that sends and receives sound waves and transfers information to the computer to make the picture.
A technologist will apply a clear, water-based gel to the skin over the area being examined. This helps transmit sound waves. Some exams require insertion of the probe into a body cavity.
Ultrasound is usually painless and does not involve any radiation. The exam does not require needles or incisions. You may feel mild pressure as the sonographer guides the transducer over your body. This might occur if you are required to have a full bladder. For some exams, a special transducer is inserted into body cavities to see specific tissues or organs.
Sometimes, more images are taken in different positions or with more pressure applied to the probe. Your comfort is important to us. Please let the technologist know if you are uncomfortable and they will work with you to minimize discomfort while still trying to get the images needed for diagnosis. After the exam, the technologist will give you a towel to remove the gel. The technologist will review the exam with the radiologist.
Results for your exam are generally available for your provider to view on the same day of your exam. Ultrasound exams are interpreted by a board-certified radiologist and a detailed report will be sent to your ordering provider. Results are available to your in Mass General Brigham’s Patient Gateway.
Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 7 am to 4 pm along with limited evening and weekend appointments.