What is a pelvic ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging exam that uses sound waves to create detailed pictures of organs inside your body. The pictures are called sonograms. An ultrasound is a safe, fairly quick procedure that’s available at most imaging centers and some doctors’ offices.
A pelvic ultrasound looks at the organs in your pelvic area between your abdomen (belly) and legs. It may also look at your lower abdomen. The pelvic organs include:
- Bladder, which holds urine.
- Fallopian tubes, which carry eggs between the ovaries and uterus.
- Ovaries, organs that make and store eggs.
- Prostate, a gland that helps with reproduction in men.
- Rectum, the lower part of your intestines.
- Uterus, also called the womb.
- Vagina, the canal to the uterus.
Are there different types of pelvic ultrasounds?
There are different types of pelvic ultrasounds. Each looks at different organs or serves a particular purpose:
- Abdominal ultrasound, which examines organs from outside the belly.
- Pregnancy ultrasound, which watches a baby’s growth in the uterus (womb).
- Rectal ultrasound, which examines the inside of the rectum. A special exam called a transrectal ultrasound looks at the prostate.
- Transvaginal ultrasound, which examines the reproductive organs from inside the vagina.
When would a healthcare provider recommend a pelvic ultrasound?
A healthcare provider may recommend a pelvic ultrasound if you have:
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
- Pain during sex.
- Pain during urination.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
- Swelling in your abdomen.
- Unusual periods or bleeding after menopause.
- Urinary incontinence (urine leakage).
What conditions can a pelvic ultrasound diagnose?
A pelvic ultrasound can help diagnose a range of conditions:
In people assigned female at birth:
- Ectopic pregnancy.
- Gynecologic tumors.
- Ovarian cysts.
- Ovarian torsion.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Pelvic organ prolapse.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Uterine fibroids.
In people assigned male at birth:
- Infections or cysts in seminal vesicles (glands that help produce semen).
- Prostate cancer.
- Testicular cancer.
- Testicular or scrotal infection.
- Scrotal or penile injury.
Are there other uses for a pelvic ultrasound?
A healthcare provider may use a pelvic ultrasound to perform a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure to collect a small sample of tissue from inside your body. The ultrasound can help guide the biopsy needle to the right location.
Another use for a pelvic ultrasound is to check the positioning of an intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD is a device placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
Who performs a pelvic ultrasound?
A healthcare provider who specializes in ultrasounds usually performs a pelvic ultrasound. The medical field calls these providers sonographers. In some cases, your doctor may do the exam.
How does a pelvic scan create images?
During a pelvic ultrasound, a sonographer uses a special tool called a transducer. This small, wand-like instrument gives off sound waves. The transducer connects to a computer and a screen. As your healthcare provider moves the transducer, the sound waves bounce off certain types of tissue. They then return to the transducer as echoes. The computer translates the echoes into images, which appear on the screen.
Sonograms are pictures in real time, meaning they show your organs’ movements as they happen. Sonograms also show blood flowing through blood vessels.
How should I prepare for a pelvic ultrasound?
Your healthcare provider may ask you to drink plenty of water before an abdominal pelvic ultrasound. A full bladder helps the transducer’s sound waves travel, creating a clearer picture of your bladder. You usually don’t need to do this for a rectal or transvaginal ultrasound.
Your healthcare provider should provide instructions before any pelvic scan. Make sure to reach out with questions you may have.
Where is a pelvic ultrasound performed?
You may need to go to a center that specializes in imaging for a pelvic ultrasound. But many healthcare providers have ultrasound equipment in their clinics. That makes it convenient for you to receive an in-office scan without going to a separate location.
How is an abdominal pelvic ultrasound done?
Your healthcare provider applies warm gel on the lower part of your belly. The gel helps the transducer glide smoothly over your skin and create clearer pictures. Your provider moves the transducer over different areas of your abdomen. You shouldn’t feel any pain.
How is a transvaginal ultrasound done?
During a transvaginal exam, your healthcare provider will insert the transducer a few inches into your vagina after covering it in a lubricating gel. It may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, like a gynecologic exam. Your provider gently moves the transducer at different angles to get clear pictures of your reproductive organs.
How is a rectal ultrasound done?
During a rectal ultrasound, you lie on your side. Your healthcare provider inserts a lubricated transducer into your rectum to examine the lining there. Your provider may also scan the prostate.
Are there side effects after a pelvic scan?
You shouldn’t experience any side effects after a pelvic scan. Contact your healthcare provider right away if you experience pain, bleeding, fever or other problems.
Results and Follow-Up
How are the results of a pelvic scan handled?
Your ultrasound provider sends the pictures to a radiologist (imaging specialist). The radiologist examines the images carefully and makes a diagnosis. The radiologist then shares that information with your healthcare provider. Your provider will contact you to discuss the results. In some instances, like in obstetrics and gynecology, your healthcare provider may interpret the images directly without consulting a radiologist.
What are the benefits of a pelvic scan?
Pelvic scans are widely used because they are:
- Detailed: Pelvic scans produce high-quality images.
- Quick: Pelvic scans take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
- Safe: Pelvic scans do not use radiation, which can occasionally cause medical problems with higher doses.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A pelvic ultrasound is a safe, reliable imaging exam. It can detect and diagnose a range of health conditions, especially with reproductive organs. An accurate, timely scan means you may be able to get treatment sooner if there is a problem. Often, an ultrasound can rule out health conditions and confirm that you have a clean bill of health.
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