Ultrasonography is a method of imaging organs known for many years, based on the phenomenon of reflection of acoustic waves from the encountered obstacles.
Acoustic waves emitted by an ultrasound machine propagate through the human body and are subject to various phenomena, including the phenomenon of reflection. The ultrasound wave reflected at the border of two obstacles of different acoustic resistance becomes a source of information on the appearance and condition of an organ or space inside the body.
With the use of ultrasound it is possible to examine most organs, except for the inside of bones and organs lying inside the skull (because bone tissue entirely reflects sound waves).
An ultrasound machine consists of a probe. This is a head containing special transducers that send and receive sound waves. Thanks to other electronic devices in the ultrasound machine, the waves received by the transducer are converted into the image appearing on the monitor.
Ultrasonography makes it possible to assess the size, shape and position of organs and anatomical spaces. It can detect neoplastic, inflammatory, atrophic and degenerative changes.
Preparation for the ultrasound examination
- The examination of abdominal organs, such as the stomach, intestines, reproductive organs and urinary tract, requires special preparations.
- You should be fasting.
- On the evening before the examination you should take a laxative prescribed by the doctor in order to clear the intestines of any lingering matter that may obstruct the organs being examined.
- you must not smoke before the examination.
- you should drink 2-3 glasses of non-carbonated soft drink or unsweetened tea one hour before the examination to fill the bladder.
- In the case of a prostate examination, an enema should be taken before the examination.
- For examinations of other organs, no special preparation is required.
Course of the ultrasound examination
The examination is performed in the supine position, on the side or sometimes on the abdomen. In order to evaluate excessive mobility of the organs, the examination must be carried out standing up.
The patient removes those parts of clothing that cover the examined area. The doctor applies a special gel to the examined area and then moves the head of the camera to obtain an image.
If an ultrasound is performed on a child, it is best done in the presence of the mother, who should calm the child and divert its attention. If the situation warrants, sedatives may be given to the child. The examination of the hip joints is carried out in special hammock attachments, after placing the child with the hips exposed on the right and left side.
Transrectal ultrasound of the prostate gland and transvaginal ultrasound of the reproductive organs are slightly different. The special ultrasound head is covered with a rubber sheath.
In the case of prostate examinations, a probe with a diameter of a finger is inserted into the rectum after filling the sheath with water in order to improve the contact between the probe and the walls of the organ.
Examination of the reproductive organs consists in inserting the probe into the vagina. It is mainly performed by gynecologists.
Ultrasound takes from 5 minutes to about an hour, depending on the examined organ. Generally, it is a painless and non-invasive examination. The result is obtained a few minutes after the examination. The decision whether an ultrasound examination is necessary is made by your doctor.
Uses of the ultrasound examination
- abdominal ultrasound:
- injuries in the abdominal cavity
- bleeding from abdominal organs
- anemia (anaemia)
- diarrhoea, vomiting
- urinary tract infections
- menstrual disorders
- neck ultrasound:
- suspected hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
- testicular ultrasound:
- testicular pain
- scrotal enlargement
- testicular or epididymal tumour.
- chest ultrasound:
- chest trauma.
- orbital ultrasound:
- foreign body in the orbit
- eyeball tumours.
- nipple ultrasound:
- as an adjunct to mammography
- nipple discharge
- palpable tumours
- enlargement of the axillary lymph nodes
- after breast removal (for monitoring purposes).
- joint and ligament ultrasound:
- mechanical injuries
- rheumatic joint disease
- congenital defects and childhood joint diseases, e.g. of the hip joint.
- soft tissue and muscle ultrasound:
- pain in limbs
- swelling of muscles
- skin and subcutaneous tumors.
- central nervous system (CNS) ultrasound:
- history of meningitis in a newborn
- disproportionate enlargement of the newborn’s head circumference
- neurological symptoms in the newborn indicating CNS diseases.
Ultrasound of the central nervous system in young children is possible through the non-cropped fontanel.
Ultrasound examinations are very useful because they provide a lot of information and help to diagnose many serious diseases. At the same time they are safe and mostly painless examinations.