Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of your body. It’s very good a looking at the soft tissues of the body and is often the first step in determining the cause for your symptoms.
Also known as sonography, ultrasound imaging uses a small transducer (probe) to both transmit sound waves into the body and record the waves that echo back. Sound waves travel into the area being examined until they hit a boundary between tissues, such as between fluid and soft tissue, or soft tissue and bone. At these boundaries some of the sound waves are reflected back to the probe, while others travel further until they reach another boundary and are reflected back. Since the speed, direction, and distance sound waves travel differ depending on the boundary they run into, a computer can interpret this information as a two-dimensional image on a screen.
The shape and intensity of the echoes depend on how the area absorbs the sound waves. For example, most waves pass through a fluid-filled cyst and send back very few or faint echoes, which look black on the display screen. On the other hand, waves will bounce off a solid tumor, creating a pattern of echoes that the computer will interpret as a lighter-colored image. Air and bone also reflect sound waves.
Ultrasound has been around for over sixty years and is considered safe since there are no known risks and it doesn’t use radiation. It’s one of the most commonly ordered imaging exams since it’s versatile, portable, relatively inexpensive, non-invasive, and can provide real-time information about the area of concern.
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