What is a pelvic ultrasound?
Pelvic ultrasound sonography is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the pelvic organs and lower abdomen. Ultrasound images help doctors see what's going on inside the body without having to use surgery. During a pelvic ultrasound, sound waves bounce off organs, tissue, and blood vessels and into a transducer that reads and interprets the waves. This procedure creates real-time images that can help doctors address conditions related to pelvic pain, reproductive organ health, and the wellness of a fertilized egg in utero (a baby growing during pregnancy).
There is more than just one type of pelvic ultrasound. The type of pelvic ultrasound your doctor orders depends on your sex, health history, and symptoms. Additional types of pelvic ultrasounds include:
Transvaginal/ endovaginal ultrasound (sonohysterography)
During a transvaginal ultrasound, the sonographer will insert a small transducer into the vagina while you lie on an exam table with your feet in stirrups. These scans are often done in an obstetrics-gynecology clinic (OB/GYN) by a certified sonographer. The transducer will emit sound waves which will create real-time images of the reproductive and pelvic organs, including the fallopian tubes, endometrium, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. Transvaginal ultrasounds can be used to address conditions such as:
- Ovarian cysts
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Uterine fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (inflammation in the reproductive organs)
- Intrauterine device (IUD) displacement
Pregnant women may receive a transvaginal ultrasound to check the health of the uterus. This can be used to detect abnormalities in the uterus or diagnose conditions such as ectopic pregnancy.
Transrectal ultrasounds are similar to transvaginal ultrasounds, but the transducer is inserted into the rectum instead of the vagina. Transrectal ultrasounds are commonly performed for men who are at risk of prostate cancer but may also help radiologists detect other medical conditions related to the bladder, prostate glands, and seminal vesicles. Transrectal ultrasounds may cause a mild amount of discomfort as the small transducer is inserted into the rectum, but the scan should only take about 30 minutes.
During a transabdominal ultrasound, a hand-held transducer is placed upon the lower abdomen to create images of the bladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and intestines. Transabdominal ultrasounds are used to detect abnormal growths (like tumors or cysts), aortic aneurysms, and masses (like an abscess). A special Doppler ultrasound may be used to test blood flow through blood vessels in the abdominal organs.
Pelvic ultrasounds can help doctors detect a wide range of health conditions inside the pelvis and lower abdomen. They are quick, only mildly uncomfortable, and do not use radiation. They can show real-time images of organs, soft tissue, and blood vessels in the body. The specialized Doppler ultrasound can be used to show blood flow by pinging sound waves off moving blood cells. In some cases, however, further testing may be needed. A doctor may order a biopsy, for example, if they suspect a growth inside the body may be cancerous.
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