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What is Pelvic Ultrasound?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A pelvic ultrasound is an ultrasound imaging study conducted for the purpose of looking at anatomical structures in and around the pelvis. This type of imaging study may be used to look at the reproductive tract or the urinary tract, to get a closer look at structures like the uterus, bladder, kidneys, and prostate, among others. There are a number of reasons for a doctor to request a pelvic ultrasound, and several different types are available.

Ultrasound imaging involves the generation of high frequency sound waves which are directed into the body, where they bounce off the internal structures. The ultrasound machine records the sound waves when they return, and uses information about how the sound waves have changed to generate a picture of the inside of the body. Ultrasound is considered a noninvasive form of medical testing, because it does not involve breaking the skin.

In an abdominal ultrasound, the ultrasound probe is held over the stomach. It may be pushed into the stomach to get a better image or angle, and the patient usually lies on his or her back for the best image. In a vaginal ultrasound, also called a transvaginal ultrasound, the probe is inserted into the vagina for the purpose of getting a better picture, as less tissue will be between the ultrasound probe and the area of interest. Rectal or transrectal ultrasound involves the insertion of the probe into the rectum.

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Sometimes, a pelvic ultrasound is used in the process of diagnosing disease. The doctor may want to see if a patient has a congenital abnormality, urinary blockage, tumor, fibroid, or similar abnormality which could explain a medical problem. Pelvic ultrasound is also used in fertility treatment, and to monitor the course of a woman's pregnancy. The imaging study may also be ordered after surgery, to confirm that a patient is recovering well. In all cases, it can take several hours or days to get results from the ultrasound test, depending on when the doctor has time to interpret the images.

To prepare for a pelvic ultrasound, a patient will need to wear loose, comfortable clothing, and he or she may be asked to change in a hospital gown. Abdominal ultrasound should not cause any discomfort. Transvaginal ultrasound can be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is usually less unpleasant than a manual pelvic exam. Rectal ultrasound may be uncomfortable for some patients, with a comfort level similar to that of a manual rectal exam.

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