What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasound (also called sonography or ultrasonography) is a noninvasive diagnostic imaging test. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create real-time pictures or video of internal organs or other tissues, such as blood vessels. An ultrasound picture is called a sonogram.

Ultrasound enables healthcare providers to “see” details of soft tissues inside the body without making any incisions.

How does ultrasound work?

Ultrasound works similarly to sonar technology, which uses sound waves to detect objects beneath the ocean’s surface. Healthcare professionals called diagnostic medical sonographers are trained to use an ultrasound probe. The probe is a device that emits sound waves.

A sonographer puts a special gel on the body part they will examine. They pass the probe over or inside that area. Sound waves from the probe bounce off internal tissues. The sound waves create a live picture and display it on a computer screen nearby. You can’t hear the sound waves.

Why do healthcare providers perform ultrasound tests?

Healthcare providers commonly use ultrasound to check an unborn baby’s health and development during pregnancy. Ultrasound can also help your provider learn more about what’s causing a wide range of symptoms (such as unexplained pain, lump or inflammation).

Your provider may recommend an ultrasound to evaluate the:

Healthcare providers sometimes use ultrasound to perform certain procedures precisely. For example, ultrasound can guide needle placement in a needle biopsy.

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