An ultrasound scan is a simple, non-invasive test that helps doctors investigate abnormal blood tests and diagnose possible causes of abdominal pain. Ultrasound scanning involves exposing parts of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use radiation, and because they are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.

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Benefits of the procedure

Ultrasound examinations can help to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess organ damage following illness.  Ultrasound can be used to evaluate symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • infection

Ultrasound is a useful way of examining many of the body's internal organs, including but not limited to the:

  • heart and blood vessels
  • liver
  • gallbladder
  • spleen
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • bladder
  • uterus, ovaries, and unborn child (foetus) in pregnant patients
  • thyroid and parathyroid glands
  • scrotum

Ultrasound is also used to:

  • guide procedures such as needle biopsies for laboratory testing
  • image the breasts and to guide biopsy of breast lumps
  • diagnose a variety of heart conditions and to assess damage after a heart attack or diagnose for valvular heart disease.
  • blockages to blood flow (such as clots).
  • narrowing of vessels
  • tumours and congenital malformations.

Before the procedure

You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam. You may need to remove all clothing and jewellery in the area to be examined. You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure.

You may be instructed not to eat or drink for up to 12 hours before your appointment. For some scans you may be asked to drink up to six glasses of water two hours prior to your exam and avoid urinating so that your bladder is full when the scan begins. For most ultrasound exams, you will be positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.

A clear water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The ultrasound technologist or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of interest.

After the procedure

When the examination is complete, you will be asked to dress and wait while the ultrasound images are reviewed. Sometimes the radiologist reviews the ultrasound images in real-time as they are acquired and you can be released immediately.

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