What is an ultrasound?
An ultrasound is a painless and non-invasive exam that uses harmless sound waves to capture images of organs and other structures inside the body without the use of radiation. During the exam, a hand-held instrument, called a transducer, is used to send out sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. The sound waves are reflected off the body structures and created into digital images by the ultrasound machine. The images are then used by a specialized physician called a radiologist to diagnose any medical conditions.
When is an ultrasound needed?
Abdominal ultrasound imaging is performed to evaluate the:
Ultrasound imaging can also:
- help a physician determine the source of abdominal pain, such as gallstones, kidney stones, abscesses or an inflamed appendix
- guide procedures such as biopsies, in which needles, whose placement can be guided by ultrasound, are used to sample cells from organs for laboratory testing
- help identify the presence and cause of an apparent enlarged abdominal organ
- identify the location of abnormal fluid in the abdomen
- help identify causes of vomiting in young infants.
How are ultrasounds performed?
The child and his or her caregiver (must be a parent or legal guardian) are escorted to a dimly lit ultrasound exam room. The ultrasound exam is performed with the child lying down on a soft table. A warm water-based gel is placed on the skin over the area to be studied. The technologist slides the transducer over the area and takes pictures of the underlying organs. The pictures appear on the ultrasound machine screen. During the exam, the child may be asked to hold his or her breath at times or lay in different positions. It is important to hold as still as possible. Most ultrasound exams take 30 minutes.
Can an ultrasound harm my child?
For standard diagnostic ultrasounds, there are no known harmful effects on humans.