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Types of Ultrasound Exams

Ultrasound examinations can help to diagnose a variety of conditions and to assess organ damage following illness. Ultrasound is used to help physicians evaluate symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Infection

Ultrasound is a useful way of examining many of the body's internal organs, including but not limited to the:

Heart (Vascular) - Venous and Carotid

Venous ultrasound provides pictures of the veins throughout the body. If the study is being performed to look for thrombus or blood clots in the veins in the arms or legs, the transducer may be used to compress your veins. The ability or inability of the veins to be compressed helps exclude or confirm the presence of clot in the veins.

The carotid arteries, are located on each side of the neck and carry blood from the heart to the brain. Ultrasound provides detailed pictures of these blood vessels and information about the blood flowing through them. Blockages of the carotid arteries can lead to strokes. Ultrasound provides a risk free non-invasive way to look at these blood vessels and determine if there is a significant blockage that may require treatment to reduce the risk of a stroke.


Ultrasound imaging of the breast produces a picture of the internal structures of the breast. An ultrasound of the breast may be performed to evaluate a lump in the breast or a specific area of tenderness or pain. One of the most common reasons for doing a breast ultrasound is to see if a lump detected by the patient, her physician or on a mammogram is a simple cyst or something potentially more serious. Simple breast cysts are very common and are not cancer or precancerous. If a lump is shown to represent a simple cyst no further work up is necessary. If a lump is solid, a biopsy may be recommended to exclude a possible malignancy. Although many solid lesions are benign fibroadenomas, in many cases the only way to reliably exclude cancer is to biopsy the solid mass.

During a breast ultrasound examination the sonographer or physician performing the test may use Doppler techniques to evaluate blood flow or lack of flow in any breast mass. In some cases this may provide additional information as to the cause of the mass.


An abdominal ultrasound produces a picture of the organs and other structures in the upper abdomen. Abdominal ultrasound imaging is performed to evaluate the:

  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas
  • Spleen
  • Abdominal aorta and other blood vessels of the abdomen

Ultrasound is used to help diagnose a variety of conditions, such as:

  • Abdominal pain or distention.
  • Abnormal liver function.
  • Enlarged abdominal organ.
  • Stones in the gallbladder or kidney.
  • An aneurysm in the aorta.


A pelvic ultrasound provides pictures of the structures and organs in the lower abdomen or pelvis. There are three types of pelvic ultrasound:

  • Abdominal (transabdominal)
  • Vaginal (transvaginal, endovaginal) for women
  • Rectal (transrectal) for men


Obstetrical ultrasound provides pictures of an embryo or fetus within a woman's uterus.


An ultrasound of the thyroid produces a picture of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck just below the Adam's apple and is shaped like a butterfly, with two lobes on either side of the neck connected by a narrow band of tissue. It is one of nine endocrine glands located throughout the body that make and send hormones into the bloodstream.

Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to determine the significance of a lesion identified in the thyroid gland. This is usually done as a needle biopsy. Ultrasound is often used to guide thyroid biopsies to make sure the correct area in the thyroid gland is biopsied. Using ultrasound, your radiologist can verify that the needles used for the biopsy are in the correct area to sample the lesion of interest. Thyroid biopsies are a relatively minor outpatient procedure done under local anesthesia which usually involve little or no patient discomfort.


Ultrasound imaging of the scrotum provides pictures of the testicles and the surrounding tissues of a man or a boy. An ultrasound of the scrotum may be done for a variety of reasons including to evaluate a lump or mass in the scrotum, scrotal pain or undescended testes.

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