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Ultrasound scan

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

An ultrasound scan (USS) uses sound waves to create accurate 3D images of small areas inside your body. The sound waves bounce off tissues inside your body, and how they bounce back from surfaces that are measured creates the image. The sound waves are extremely high frequency, so you cannot hear them.

Ultrasound scanning is extremely safe, pain-free, and does not use radiation (unlike X-ray, PET, and CT scans). Ultrasound scanning can be used for looking at many areas of the body, in particular, monitoring a baby’s progression in pregnancy, looking at certain organs or lumps to help with diagnosing, and looking at muscle, joint, and tendon injuries.

What about the scan?

Most ultrasounds are done externally on the body where a gel is put onto the skin (which usually feels cold!) and then an ultrasound probe rolls over this gel and produces an image on a screen.

A small number of ultrasounds are done internally when looking at specific areas, such as a transvaginal ultrasound that can be used to look at the uterus (womb) or endoscopic ultrasound. This very small ultrasound probe can go through the mouth to look at your esophagus.

Who can have an ultrasound?

There are no risks associated with ultrasound scans, so they can be used for anyone when needed. If you are having the much less common endoscopic ultrasound, you may be given some sedation, which will come with its own risks, and it will be explained to you before the scan.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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