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Diagnostic Ultrasound -- Ultrasound to Diagnose Chronic Pain


Updated September 24, 2009

What Diagnostic Ultrasound is:

Diagnostic ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to create an image. This image can show a technician or doctor what is going on inside your body. Unlike an X-ray or an MRI, diagnostic ultrasound records in “real time” – like a movie version of what is happening inside you. The technician can freeze frames of the movie to take images as needed.

Types of Diagnostic Ultrasound:

There are several types of diagnostic ultrasound, depending on your condition. You may be the most familiar with a fetal ultrasound, routinely performed during pregnancy. Diagnostic ultrasounds that may be performed to diagnose chronic pain include:
  • Bone sonography, to check for signs of osteoporosis
  • Abdominal ultrasound, to investigate causes of abdominal and pelvic pain
  • Transvaginal ultrasound, to investigate potential causes of women’s pelvic pain
  • Transrectal ultrasound, to investigate the prostate’s condition
  • Doppler ultrasound, to check blood flow through vessels and look for clots

How to Prepare for a Diagnostic Ultrasound:

You may be asked to partially or completely undress for your diagnostic ultrasound, either changing into a hospital gown or being covered with a sheet. Most ultrasounds are performed lying face-up on an examination table, though you may be asked to change positions during the exam. Certain ultrasounds require a period of fasting beforehand, and others may require that you have a fuller bladder. Your doctor will give you instructions beforehand.

What to Expect During Your Diagnostic Ultrasound:

Most diagnostic ultrasound procedures are fairly brief, lasting 30 minutes at the most. You should not feel much, other than some light pressure from the scanner. If you are having a transvaginal or transrectal ultrasound, the procedure may be uncomfortable.

Even though the images are immediately available, a radiologist will have to review your images before you receive any results.

Diagnostic Ultrasound Safety:

Diagnostic ultrasound uses non-ionizing radiation, which has even less effect on the body’s tissues than an X-ray. It can potentially heat tissues, and cause gas pockets to form in the body, though no adverse effects have been documented. Diagnostic ultrasounds should only be performed by licensed technicians, and the FDA discourages non-medical ultrasound use.


FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ultrasound Imaging. Accessed 8/11/09. http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/MedicalImaging/ucm115357.htm

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Abdominal Ultrasound. Accessed 8/11/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003777.htm

Radiological Society of North America. General Ultrasound Imaging. Accessed 8/11/09. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=genus

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