Ultrasound imaging - also known as sonography - uses sound waves to produce images of organs, vessels and tissues in the
body. During an ultrasound examination, a small, hand-held transducer is placed in contact with the patient's body. It emits inaudible, high-frequency sound waves that pass through the body, sending back "echoes" as they bounce off organs, vessel walls and tissues. Special computer equipment then converts these echoes into an image.
Ultrasound imaging has many applications. It is ideal for imaging the heart and the blood vessels. It can evaluate heart wall, chamber and valve motion, as well as blood flow within the heart and blood vessels. It may be used to detect breast cysts or gallstones and to examine the prostate and to examine the liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, colon and urinary bladder for tumors, inflammation, stones or cysts. The use of ultrasound is expanding into the field of sports medicine as an effective way to detect ligament, tendon and nerve injuries. Ultrasound also can be used to guide needle placement for biopsies, and to guide the drainage of cysts or fluid collections in the abdomen or chest that occur with some illnesses.
Because ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to create images, it is a safe form of fetal imaging. It is used in obstetrics to assess fetal well-being, determine fetal position, diagnose multiple gestations (twins, triplets, etc.), determine a delivery date and rule out ectopic pregnancy. If the fetus is old enough and positioned correctly, a baby's sex also can be determined. Ultrasound also plays a significant role in the evaluation and treatment of infertility.
In addition to its diagnostic imaging capabilities, ultrasound also is sometimes used in therapeutic applications to help treat soft tissue injuries. The discussion contained here, however, is confined to medical imaging.
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