An ultrasound examination is common in medical practice. In this procedure, a device that generates sound waves is placed on the skin after a gel is applied to conduct the sound waves. The sound waves are harmless to human tissue, and allow examination of many organs of the body, including liver, kidneys, gallbladder, and ovaries. Sound waves are so safe they are often employed to assess babies as they develop in their mother’s wombs.
One limitation of ultrasound when employed from outside the body is that the sound waves may not always penetrate deeply enough to study structures of the gastrointestinal tract. A technology offered at the Cleveland Clinic known as endoscopic ultrasound involves a special endoscope (an instrument used to view the inside of the body) with a sound wave transducer at the tip. As the endoscope is passed inside the body, it allows ultrasound examination of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, bile duct, and colon with far greater detail than that which can be obtained from outside the body. This technology is very useful for accurately staging benign and malignant tumors of the gastrointestinal tract, so that appropriate therapy can be delivered.
Endoscopic ultrasound also allows detection of small nodules or masses within the pancreas, or subtle changes in the substance of the pancreas that might indicate chronic scarring or inflammation. Tissue samples may be obtained under direct vision from endoscopic ultrasound. Patients with difficult to diagnose abdominal pain may benefit from this type of detailed examination.