Ultrasounds: What to expect and why they are important

Dec 27 2017     /     , ,

Chances are, if you are reading this blog post, you or someone you know are now pregnant and expecting to start a family within the next 40 weeks. In the next 9 months, you will likely have numerous visits to your physician’s office for checkups, the grocery store for late night food cravings, and a medical imaging provider for ultrasound check ups. Each of these is important in their own way, but the purpose of this blog is to inform you about what you can expect from your ultrasound exams and why they are important on the journey to becoming a new mom.

First and foremost, what is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is a non-invasive procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves in the assessment of body structures. Unlike other imaging techniques, ultrasound uses no radiation making it the preferred method for viewing a developing fetus during pregnancy. Ultrasound imaging is also commonly used for abdominal, pelvic, and obstetrical evaluation, but has additional broad applications in medicine and is used in the assessment of vascular structures, the heart, musculoskeletal imaging, soft tissues, intra-operative and endoscopic exams and even the brain.

How to prepare for your ultrasound

Ultrasound preparation varies depending on the organ or area being examined. If you are having your abdomen examined, you will likely have to fast for a certain period of time, depending on when your exam is scheduled. If you are having an obstetric or pelvic ultrasound, you will be asked to drink water before your exam and to keep your bladder full. The full bladder acts as a window for the ultrasound sound beams to pass through and which greatly improves visualization when looking at pelvic structures. For more specific details about how to prepare for your exam visit our exam prep page.

What to expect during your ultrasound

Before your exam, you may be asked to remove your clothing and jewelry from the area being examined. You may also be asked to change into a patient gown for the procedure. The Ultrasound technologist (sonographer) will ask you to lay down on a comfortable exam stretcher.  Ultrasound gel is applied over the area being scanned. The gel acts as a coupling agent that allows the direct passage of sound waves without interference from the air (air is a poor conductor of sound). Depending on the area being scanned, the technologist may ask you to change positions, so they can capture the best possible images using different windows into the body. Exams are typically completed within 30 minutes, although some may take more or less time depending on the area being scanned. Ultrasound exams are not painful, and the environment can even be relaxing (although there may be some discomfort from the pressure of the transducer against your skin). Once the procedure is complete, the gel is removed with a towel. It is water based and doesn’t stain. The sonographer will let you know when the exam is complete, so don’t leave until you have been discharged.

Why ultrasound exams are important during pregnancy

Ultrasounds are useful for a variety of reasons, both medical and nonmedical. While ultrasounds can provide us with the sex of a fetus and images for a keepsake, their primary function is to monitor the health and development of both the fetus and the mother.

The first trimester

During the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy, ultrasound scans are conducted for various reasons. The first ultrasound is usually performed to confirm the pregnancy and establish a due date. You may also undergo a late first trimester pregnancy for maternal screening.  This is referred to as nuchal translucency or NT ultrasound. Combined with serum screening, this test provides information about possible chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome and is quite accurate. This is something you should discuss with your doctor and the decision to undergo screening is at the patient’s discretion.

The second and third trimester

During the second and third trimesters, ultrasound scans are conducted to assess the fetal anatomy and to monitor growth and development.  An ultrasound performed around 20 weeks is typically considered the anatomy scan where the fetal anatomy is thoroughly checked.  If all the structures are not seen, you may be asked to return for another look in a week or two and this is not uncommon.  Changes in fetal position or growth of the fetus will usually allow the study to be completed at follow-up.  They will also check the placenta, ovaries, and uterus to ensure there are no complications. The second trimester ultrasound is often the most interesting because of the anatomy that can be seen. Gender can also often be determined by the second trimester and you will get a photo that has recognizable features.

Sometimes an expecting mother will have additional ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy if she is considered high risk or if she is carrying more than one.

After your ultrasound

Once your exam is completed, you shouldn’t have a problem resuming your daily routine. Your results will be reviewed by a radiologist and a report with the findings is sent to the healthcare provider who ordered the study. Usually, patients will discuss exam results with their physician or healthcare provider on a subsequent office visit.

Insight Medical Imaging – Mom’s come first.

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