What is an Ultrasound Scan?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 February 2018
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One of the most useful diagnostic tools to come along in the past 100 years is the ultrasound scan. While most people think about it in terms of pregnancy, the ultrasound scan is useful in detecting and diagnosing many other conditions, as well.

An ultrasound scan is the evolved version of sonar. Essentially, it uses sound waves to paint a picture of what is going on inside the body. The ultrasound scan consists of a transducer, computer and monitor. The transducer emits sound waves into the body. These waves are interpreted by the computer and resolved into an image of the structure on the monitor.

The ultrasound scan operator first determines the part of the body to be scanned and wipes it with a thin gel that helps the transducer glide over the skin and assists in conducting the sound waves inside the body. The ultrasound scan is painless and lasts only a few minutes. One reason it is commonly used on pregnant women is that it is a safe, non-invasive procedure. The ultrasound scan provides a great deal of information about a pregnancy without the need for surgery. It is also safe for almost any patient, since it only emits sound waves.


Doctors can glean a surprising amount of information from an ultrasound scan throughout a pregnancy. The ultrasound scan can show the fetal heartbeat, the growth of the baby’s skull and body and many congenital abnormalities, such as a cleft lip or spina bifida. The obstetrician can even see if there is an adequate amount of amniotic fluid in the womb through an ultrasound scan.

Of course, what many parents want the ultrasound scan to show is the sex of the baby. The scan can also show fetal activity, such as thumb-sucking, and the new 3-D version can give a good impression of what the baby’s face looks like. An ultrasound scan can also help determine if a woman has miscarried and can diagnose a blighted novum, as well as maternal health issues such as a damaged placenta. It is a truly useful technology.


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