What Is Pelvic Ultrasonography?

Clara Kedrek

Pelvic ultrasonography is an imaging technology used to evaluate if there are any abnormalities in the pelvic region of the body. The result of this imaging study, the pelvic ultrasound, provides critical clinical information that health care providers can use to diagnose and treat diseases. This technology has a number of benefits, including its ease of use and harmless nature. Perhaps the most common use of pelvic ultrasonography is in the evaluation of the female reproductive tract. It can also be used to evaluate the bladder in men and women alike.

Pelvic ultrasonography is used to help diagnose uterine fibroids and ovarian tumors.
Pelvic ultrasonography is used to help diagnose uterine fibroids and ovarian tumors.

The technology of pelvic ultrasonography relies on using high-frequency sound waves that the human ear is unable to hear. A transducer produces these sound waves, and is able to measure how long it takes for these waves to be reflected off of internal structures and return to the transducing probe. From the reflected sound waves, a computer is able to produce a two-dimensional representation of the underlying structures.

Ultrasounds can be performed to get images of a person's internal organs.
Ultrasounds can be performed to get images of a person's internal organs.

Ultrasound plays an important role in the imaging of the pelvic region for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the sound waves do not damage the body’s structures, a characteristic that is particularly important in this region because the reproductive organs are particularly susceptible to damage from ionizing radiation, which is commonly used in x-rays in computed tomography (CT) scans. Pelvic ultrasonography additionally produces quick results, is relatively inexpensive, and is often readily performed at the bedside of hospitalized patients.

There are also downsides, however, to the use of pelvic ultrasonography. Often it cannot pick up on tiny structures or abnormalities that might be noted by more sophisticated imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The results of the study can be distorted if performed incorrectly, or if there is a significant amount of subcutaneous fat present.

One of the main uses of pelvic ultrasonography is to evaluate women's reproductive systems. The technique can be used to detect pregnancies. It is often used to evaluate the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Common reasons for women to get a pelvic ultrasound include evaluating infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, and pelvic pain. It might reveal problems such as polycystic ovarian disease, uterine fibroids, ectopic pregnancies, or ovarian tumors.

In men, the use of pelvic ultrasonography is more limited simply because they have fewer critical internal organs in this region of the body. Unlike the woman's ovaries, which are located inside the body, the testes are in a more superficial location. Although the testes are often evaluated by ultrasound, this imaging study would not typically be considered a pelvic ultrasound. One use of the technology applicable to men and women alike is in the evaluation of the bladder. The results of this imaging test could reveal an enlarged bladder or an abnormal bladder mass.

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