Ultrasound scans allow doctors to collect critical information and make life saving-decisions when it comes to your health. Using high-frequency sound waves, ultrasound scans capture pictures and real-time movement of your body’s organs and blood vessels.
What is an ultrasound?
Ultrasound scans (also sometimes called sonograms or diagnostic medical ultrasounds) are imaging tests that use sound waves to capture pictures of your body’s organs, blood vessels, and other tissues. Ultrasounds are slightly different from other medical imaging technologies because they use sound waves to create a picture of the inside of your body. Ultrasounds don’t use or give off radiation in the process of forming medical images. There are three main types of ultrasound scans, each serving distinct purposes. These ultrasound scan categories include:
- Pregnancy ultrasounds. Pregnancy ultrasounds help doctors gather information about unborn babies. These types of tests offer knowledge about an unborn baby’s health, growth, and development. They also give a clear picture of a woman’s uterine environment and alert doctors to any anomalies, structural concerns, and risk factors.
- Diagnostic ultrasounds. Diagnostic ultrasounds are used to scan for diseases, abnormalities, injuries, and blockages in many areas of the body. Diagnostic ultrasounds are commonly ordered on the heart, liver, blood vessels, kidneys, and reproductive organs.
- Therapeutic ultrasounds. Doctors use therapeutic ultrasounds to interact with tissues rather than produce pictures of tissues. Therapeutic ultrasounds can destroy or modify tissue by pushing or heating it, dissolve blood clots, and deliver drugs to specific places in the body in a non-invasive way.
How do ultrasounds & ultrasound machines work?
During an external ultrasound scan, the technologist will first apply a special gel to your skin to help the sound waves move through your body. Then, they will place a small handheld transducer, or probe, directly on your skin. The strength and pace at which sound waves re-enter the transducer will give your ultrasound tech and doctor important information.
Conventional ultrasounds provide flat, 2D images of your body, but newer ultrasound machines can provide 3D images of your body (or baby, in the case of pregnancy). Doppler ultrasound machines can track the movement and function of organs and blood vessels in real-time.
What can you see on an ultrasound scan?
Radiologists use ultrasounds to visualize important information about your health. For example, pregnancy ultrasounds can:
- Confirm that you are pregnant.
- Check the size or position of your unborn baby.
- Figure out how long you’ve been pregnant.
- Check for signs of Down’s Syndrome and birth defects.
- Determine the volume of amniotic fluid around your baby.
Doctors use diagnostic ultrasounds to collect information regarding:
- Bone sonometry (for determining bone fragility).
- Breast tissue and suspicious or potentially cancerous breast growths. (Mammograms are also used for this type of detection.)
- Blood flow (Doppler ultrasounds can visualize blood flow through blood vessels, organs, and more).
- Heart health and function (this kind of ultrasound is called an echocardiogram).
- Ocular structures (ophthalmic ultrasounds).
- Blockages in specific organs (like the gallbladder or kidney).
- Inflammation or infections.
- Thyroid cancers or growths.
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding.
- Abnormal menstrual pain.
- Infertility issues.
- Biopsy procedures (some ultrasounds can help guide biopsies).
How much does an ultrasound cost?
Ultrasound costs vary based on your area, your medical provider, whether you have health insurance coverage, the part of your body you scan, which type of ultrasound scan you receive, and other factors. To determine the specific cost of your ultrasound scan, be sure to call your provider. Many ultrasound clinics offer payment plans and private pay options, while others accept insurance. Be sure to ask your provider what financing options are available at their clinic.
If you plan on using health insurance to pay for the cost of your ultrasound, your scan may be entirely or partially covered. Make sure to reach out to your insurance company to confirm how much of the cost you will share before receiving your ultrasound.
Ultrasound safety & risks
Ultrasounds have a stellar track record for safety and have no known risks. Unlike X-rays and some other medical imaging scans, ultrasounds do not emit ionizing radiation. However, make sure to let your ultrasound technologist know whether you are currently experiencing pain or suffering from any medical conditions before you receive your scan. Your doctor and technologist will be able to tell you whether getting an ultrasound scan is a healthy choice for you.
How to find a private ultrasound clinic near you
You can search for an ultrasound center near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool. Simply enter your information and use the filter to narrow down your search results to quickly find a reputable provider near you.