Types of ultrasounds

As an easy, painless and ionizing radiation-free imaging procedure, an ultrasound can be used to for multiple types of imaging, including:

Obstetric ultrasound
A prenatal sonogram can be used to monitor blood flow in the umbilical cord, the fetus or placenta; evaluate the baby’s heart rate; and assess the overall health of the baby. During an obstetric ultrasound, the movement of the embryo or fetus and the heart beat can be seen as an ongoing ultrasound movie. Some ultrasound devices, called a Doppler ultrasound, process the echoes produced by blood flowing through the fetal heart, blood vessels and umbilical cord and converts it into audible sound, making it possible to hear the baby’s heartbeat.

Pelvic ultrasound
A pelvic ultrasound provides pictures of the structures in the lower belly or pelvis. Pelvic ultrasound imaging looks at the bladder, ovaries, uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. For men, the procedure is used to examine the bladder and prostate gland.

Transvaginal ultrasound
Using an internal probe to obtain pictures of the vaginal cavity, a transvaginal ultrasound is often performed to evaluate suspected cancer or abnormal growths in the female reproductive system. It can also be used in the early stages of pregnancy to monitor the fetus’ health and growth.

Breast ultrasound
This type of ultrasound can be used to take a closer look at the breast after an abnormal mammogram result.

Renal ultrasound
Also called renal sonogram, this procedure is used to assess the size, shape and location of the kidneys. A renal ultrasound can also help assess blood flow to the kidneys.

Thyroid ultrasound
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that helps control metabolism. An ultrasound can help identify swelling, growths or cysts that may have developed on the gland.

Vascular ultrasound

A vascular ultrasound is a procedure that provides pictures of the body’s veins and arteries so that the blood circulation in the arms and legs can be examined. These procedures include:

  • Arterial duplex, which uses ultrasound to produce pictures of the arteries in a patient’s arms or legs. This procedure is often used to test for peripheral arterial disease.
  • Carotid duplex, a procedure that uses ultrasound to look for plaque, blood clots or other blood flow problems in the carotid arteries. The carotid arteries are located in the neck, and they supply blood to the brain.
  • Venous duplex, a procedure that uses ultrasound to produce pictures of the veins in the arms or legs. Duplex ultrasound uses a combination of Doppler flow and conventional imaging information to allow physicians to see the structure of the blood vessels. Duplex ultrasound reveals how blood is flowing through the vessels and measures the speed of the blood flow. This exam can also be useful in estimating the diameter of a blood vessel, as well as the amount of obstruction in the blood vessel.