The Role of Ultrasound in Detecting Various Illnesses : Ultrasound technology has come a long way since its invention in the 1950s. This diagnostic modality is now used extensively to detect various illnesses and conditions in adults and children.
Ultrasound can assess everything from the baby’s heart rate and development in the womb to gallbladder function and blood flow through major arteries.
Before you put yourself (or your child) through an ultrasound, it is important to understand how this technology works and what it can (and cannot) show.
How Does Ultrasound Work?
Ultrasound waves are high-frequency sound waves transmitted through the body using a special probe. The probe is placed directly on the skin over the area of interest; the ultrasound waves pass through the body and bounce off various organs and structures.
These waves are then converted into images that can be seen on a screen.
Ultrasound is a painless and non-invasive procedure that does not use ionizing radiation (like X-rays or CT scans). It is a safe diagnostic tool, especially for pregnant women and young children.
Who Performs Ultrasound?
In most cases, a trained ultrasound technician will perform the procedure. These specialists are called sonographers. They have extensive training in positioning the ultrasound probe and how to obtain high-quality images.
However, some doctors (such as radiologists or obstetricians) are also trained to perform ultrasounds and interpret the images. In some cases, your doctor may perform an ultrasound themselves.
How Does the Procedure Work?
The ultrasound procedure itself is very simple. Before being scanned, your doctor will request you follow an ultrasound preparation protocol.
It may involve drinking lots of water or taking a laxative, depending on the area of your body being scanned.
Once prepared, your doctor will request you lie down on an exam table and expose the area of interest. The sonographer will then apply some gel to the skin to help the probe move more easily.
With the movement of the probe, you will hear a faint “whooshing” sound as the ultrasound waves pass through your body.
The entire procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.
Are There Types of Ultrasound?
Yes, there are many different types of ultrasound exams, and each one is used to assess a specific area or condition. The most common types of ultrasound are:
- Musculoskeletal Ultrasound – differentiates trauma-related injuries that can initially mimic arthritis.
- Abdominal Ultrasound – assesses the organs in the belly, including the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and kidneys.
- Pelvic Ultrasound – assesses the female reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.
- An echocardiogram (Cardiac Ultrasound) – looks into the details of the heart and surrounding structures.
- Neurosonogram – analyzes the brain and nervous system
Fetal, thyroid, and breast ultrasounds are some of the other types of exams performed.
What Can Ultrasound Detect?
Ultrasound can be used to detect a variety of conditions, including:
Abnormalities in the Baby During Pregnancy
One of the most common ultrasounds assesses the baby’s heart rate and structure. It can be done as early as 16 weeks into the pregnancy.
During an anomaly scan done between 18 and 21 weeks, the sonographer can assess the baby’s growth and development and look for congenital disabilities. Ultrasound can also detect twins or other multiple gestations and the baby’s position in the uterus.
Gallstones are a common problem; around 25 million Americans have them. Ultrasound is the best way to diagnose them.
The sonographer will look for any stones in the gallbladder or bile ducts. They will also assess the gallbladder’s size and wall thickness and how well it is contracting. Using this information, the doctor can determine if you have gallbladder disease.
An aortic aneurysm is a ballooning of the aorta, the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
If it ruptures, it can be life-threatening. Ultrasound is the best way to diagnose an aortic aneurysm. The sonographer will look for any abnormal dilation of the aorta and assess the size of the aneurysm.
Ultrasound can also be used to assess joint problems, such as arthritis. The sonographer will look for any inflammation or damage to the cartilage or bones.
They will also assess the amount of fluid in the joint. This information can help the doctor determine the best treatment plan for you.
Other conditions like liver and heart diseases, kidney stones, and some types of cancer can also be detected using ultrasound.
What Are the Benefits of Ultrasound?
Unlike other imaging modalities, ultrasound is non-invasive and does not involve any use of needles or injections.
- Ultrasound is a widely used and available technology. It is relatively inexpensive and can be done on an outpatient basis.
- Ultrasound is a safe modality with no known risks. Therefore, it is considered safe for all ages.
- In contrast to X-rays and CT scans, ultrasound provides a clearer picture of soft tissues.
- Ultrasound can also be used to guide biopsies and other interventions.
What Are the Limitations of Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is not perfect. It is a diagnostic tool with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Some of the limitations of ultrasound include:
- It is operator-dependent, which means that the quality of the images depends on the skill of the sonographer.
- It can be difficult to obtain clear images of obese patients or those with a lot of gas in their intestines.
- Ultrasound is not always accurate, especially during early pregnancy.
If you are pregnant and want to have an ultrasound, it is best to do it during your second trimester, when the baby’s organs develop enough to be seen clearly on the scan.
If you think you might have gallstones, an aortic aneurysm, or arthritis, your doctor may order an ultrasound to help make a clearer diagnosis.
You should always follow your doctor’s recommendations. If you have any concerns about ultrasound, discuss them with your doctor.
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