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Ultrasounds Aren't Just For Pregnancy: Learn What Else They Are Used For

Ultrasounds Aren't Just For Pregnancy: Learn What Else They Are Used For
The only time you’ve encountered ultrasounds is when a friend or family member hands you a B&W printout of their little baby-in-process. But ultrasound images aren’t just used for pregnancy. They aid your health in many ways. Here’s how.

Ultrasound is a safe imaging technology that uses a transducer to bounce sound waves off of your organs. Safely, painlessly, and without the use of ionizing radiation, the transducer interprets the “echo” your organs make and sends it to a monitor so that your doctor can watch your organs and veins in real time.

Ultrasound energy is so safe that doctors use it to monitor the progress of a fetus in the womb. Though pregnancy ultrasounds and the resulting printouts (i.e., sonograms) are the most well-known use for ultrasound energy, they’re far from the only one.

Doctors often use ultrasound to guide their instruments during a complex surgical procedure. They’re also used to evaluate the health of your organs, including your reproductive organs and breasts.

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors, Joseph Calandra, MD and Karen Mass, MD, may take ultrasound images to evaluate a number of conditions. Below are a few of the ways in which we use ultrasounds to catch problems early and keep you as healthy as possible.

Breast ultrasounds

Although ultrasounds may be used as part of our investigation into your breast health, they are not appropriate for first-line breast screening. A low-dose X-ray screening mammogram still provides the most accurate interpretation of your breast tissue, so that we can catch potential cancers at their earliest, most treatable stages.

However, if you have dense breasts, we may have difficulty distinguishing healthy tissue from cancerous tissue. In such cases, we may recommend a second, diagnostic mammogram as well as an automated breast ultrasound (ABUS).

An ABUS uses high-frequency ultrasound to provide detailed images of dense breast tissue. ABUS can find small tumors that can’t be seen on a traditional mammogram.

Thyroid ultrasound

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of your throat and controls your metabolism. If your thyroid isn’t functioning well, you may feel fatigued and have brain fog and other symptoms. We may recommend a thyroid ultrasound if we identify or suspect that you have:

  • Thyroid nodule
  • Goiter
  • Abnormal lymph nodes near thyroid
  • Thyroid cancer

We may also use ultrasound to guide a needle if we take a biopsy of your thyroid. 

Abdominal ultrasound

We may run the ultrasound device over your abdomen if we need to examine your organs in that area. We most commonly order an abdominal ultrasound if we suspect that you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. We may also perform abdominal ultrasound to detect abnormalities in your:

  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Kidneys
  • Gallbladder
  • Intestines
  • Spleen

If you have stomach pain or bloating, an ultrasound may help us determine why. 

Pelvic ultrasound

A pelvic ultrasound is a safe, quick, painless way to look at your reproductive organs and evaluate any abnormalities. We may run the device over your pelvic area, or may switch to another type of transducer that’s inserted into your vagina. Pelvic ultrasound helps us identify and evaluate conditions that may affect your health or fertility, such as:

  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease

Your OB/GYN also uses a pelvic ultrasound to guide the placement of an intrauterine device (IUD). Ultrasounds are used during fertility treatments to monitor ovulation and during pregnancy to keep tabs on your health and your baby’s health, too.

Vascular ultrasound

A vascular ultrasound evaluates your circulatory system and helps us identify any blockages or other abnormalities. We may recommend vascular ultrasound to:

  • Monitor blood flow to organs and tissues 
  • Locate and identify blockages (i.e., stenosis)
  • Identify abnormalities such as plaque or emboli
  • Detect blood clots (i.e., deep venous thrombosis) in arms or legs
  • Determine if you’re a candidate for angioplasty
  • Evaluate success of graft or bypass procedures
  • Identify an aneurysm
  • Evaluate varicose veins

No matter what kind of ultrasound you get, the procedure is simple, fast, and pain-free. In the case of a pelvic ultrasound, we may ask you to drink water before your test. In other cases, no preparation is necessary.

If you have troubling symptoms or need an ultrasound study to accompany your diagnostic mammogram, call our friendly team or use our online appointment form.