Diagnostics & Testing

Transvaginal Ultrasound

What is ultrasonography?

In ultrasonography, or ultrasound, high-frequency sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, are transmitted through body tissues. The echoes are recorded and transformed into video or photographic images.

Ultrasound images help in the diagnosis of a wide range of diseases and conditions. The idea for ultrasonography came from sonar technology, which makes use of sound waves to detect underwater objects.

Ultrasound is used to create images of soft tissue structures, such as the gall bladder, liver, heart, kidney, female reproductive organs-- and even of babies still in the womb. Ultrasound can also detect blockages in the blood vessels.

Ultrasound cannot be used to image bones because they are too dense to penetrate. In addition, the intestinal tract and normal lung tissue are not easily identified with ultrasound because air or gas can interfere with the production of ultrasound images.

Ultrasound may be used with other diagnostic procedures or by itself.

Most ultrasound procedures are performed topically, or on the surface of the skin, using a gel as a conductive medium to aid the quality of the image. However, a transvaginal ultrasound is performed by inserting a probe into the vaginal canal. This method of ultrasound produces an image quality that is greatly enhanced.

What is examined during a transvaginal ultrasound?

During a transvaginal ultrasound, a tubular probe is inserted into the vaginal canal. The probe is completely covered by a lubricated condom. The probe can be rotated slightly to obtain close contact images of the uterus and ovaries.

The uterus and ovaries may be evaluated to examine abnormal pelvic growths and to determine the source of painful cramps or other pain in the pelvic area, unexplained vaginal bleeding or lack of menstrual flow.

Before the test

There is no special preparation before the transvaginal ultrasound. You may continue taking all of your medications as prescribed by your health care provider. The test can be performed without concern at any stage of a woman's menstrual cycle.

On the day of the test

Please do not bring valuables such as jewelry and credit cards.

  • Your ultrasound test is performed by a registered diagnostic sonographer. The ultrasound images will be interpreted by a board-certified radiologist.
  • You will be asked to empty your bladder before the test.
  • You may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
During the test

You will lie on a padded examining table. A probe is gently inserted into the vagina. There will be minimal discomfort during the test. The ultrasound takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Are there any side effects?

Studies have shown ultrasound is not hazardous and there are no harmful side effects. In addition, ultrasound does not use radiation, as X-ray tests do.

After the test

You will be able to resume your usual activities. A written report of your ultrasound results will be forwarded to your referring physician. Your physician will discuss the test results with you.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Patient Education Pamphlet: Ultrasound Exams. www.acog.org Accessed 3/15/2011

American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.
AIUM Practice Guideline for the Performance of Pelvic Ultrasound Examinations.
Accessed 3/15/2011

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/20/2011...#4993