Many people often think about pregnant women whenever they hear the word ‘ultrasound’. However, even though one of the most prevalent applications of ultrasound scanning is fetal imaging, this diagnostic tool has been applied in a wide variety of use cases in recent times. Among diagnostic testing techniques, ultrasound imaging is the preferred choice for most doctors and physical therapists.
A diagnostic ultrasound unit can offer valuable insight into the best treatment or medical procedures to effectively tackle various health conditions, making it an essential tool. This comprehensive guide explains what ultrasonography is, as well as the numerous benefits it offers. So, don’t stop reading!
What is ultrasound? Overview of the technology
An ultrasound unit uses sound waves to create an image of the activities that occur in the human body. A transducer is used to emit high-frequency sound, which is often not within human hearing range. The sound echoes are then recorded as the ultrasonic waves bounce back.
With this real-time data displayed on a computer screen, the size, consistency, and shape of soft tissues and organs within the body can be determined. Usually, technicians (sonographers) undergo special training to conduct imaging procedures.
A doctor or radiologist is responsible for interpreting the resulting ultrasound imaging results. Numerous health conditions can be diagnosed and treated with this technology. Carrying out the ultrasonography procedure often demands little or no special preparation. The doctor will inform the patient about how to prepare, what to drink, do, or eat before undergoing ultrasonography.
Preparation may include leaving jewellery at home, wearing comfortable clothing, and more. In some cases, patients might need to change into a gown. To learn more, read here
What are the benefits of using ultrasound technology?
Ultrasonography offers numerous benefits, which is why it has emerged as one of the most effective tools for the diagnosis of various health conditions and subsequent treatment of them.
Below are some of the main benefits and reasons for its prevalence.
- No Ionizing Radiation: The main benefit of ultrasound imaging is that it uses ultrasonic sound waves to create images.
- Ultrasound techniques differ from other imaging procedures, as no radiation is used. As a result, any adverse patient response usually caused by radiation exposure is avoided.
- Other imaging tests often need substances known as contrast agents. These contrast agents help to emphasize specific areas in the body with issues during diagnostic imaging. Patients are usually administered the agents by oral medications or injection in blood circulation pathways.
- Many people suffer allergic reactions to these substances. Similar contrast agents for ultrasound imaging are not required in most cases, thus ensuring patient safety.
- Ultrasound exams do not require invasive procedures.
- Technicians only need to place the appropriate acoustic transducers in direct contact with the skin over the specific areas that require visualization.
- For example, to check a patient’s thyroid gland, the probe is placed on the patient’s neck. For pregnant women, it is placed on the belly.
- In some cases, radiologists often place the ultrasonic probe inside the body cavities to produce images of specific organs. This does not require invasive procedures (i.e., breaking the skin). For this reason, patients do not suffer postoperative pain and scarring associated with many medical procedures.
- Diagnostic ultrasound methods are generally painless. After all, they do not need injections, incisions, or needles. As a result, patients avoid postoperative chronic pain or operative complications.
- For example, simply placing a probe on a pregnant woman’s belly produces a clear image of her unborn baby. Very easy and painless. This makes an ultrasonography examination appropriate for various applications.
No recovery time
- Usually, non-invasive methods require no recovery period.
- However, invasive approaches require incisions, which require proper management of the incisions post-procedure. Patients have no need to worry about this when it comes to an ultrasonography examination.
- Since there is no recovery period, patients can undergo ultrasonography at any time and easily fit the sessions into their schedules.
- Ultrasonography exams do not disrupt daily activities or routine exercise. In other words, it is a hassle-free, fast diagnostic imaging test.
Easy to operate
- Most technicians find the ultrasound machine easy to operate. The whole process is quite simple.
- An ultrasound gel is applied to the patient’s skin to prevent air pockets from blocking the ultrasonic waves. Then a sonographer presses the handheld probe against the specific area and moves it around to obtain a clear image.
- Even when clearer images are needed, a piezoelectric transducer is simply attached to the probe and inserted into a natural cavity in the body. This ease of use has also contributed to the popularity of ultrasonography.
Accessibility and Speed
- Ultrasonography sessions are often quick; most last for just a few minutes.
- The most intensive ultrasound exams only take up to an hour. This makes it convenient for people with busy schedules.
- Since ultrasound techniques are also relatively inexpensive compared to other diagnostic imaging tests – it is affordable for many patients.
- The only consumable product required is the water-based gel that allows signals to travel through the skin.
- This is why doctors are often quick to recommend ultrasonography if available.
- Point-of-care ultrasound devices are portable, which means they can be used bedside, eliminating the need to transport patients to medical laboratories or imaging rooms.
- Such portability makes point-of-care diagnostic testing easy.
- The clear images produce using ultrasonography are a huge benefit. They can help doctors decide on the best approach for treatment.
- Most ultrasound machines often come with options that support the production of clear images.
Dynamic real-time images
- Dynamic real-time 3D imaging ensures technicians can rely on high-quality images and timely spatial information of the specific area being scanned.
- Images are produced as the probe is moved around the scanned area.
Shows soft tissues in great detail
- Unlike other imaging methods like X-rays used for examining hard tissue, such as bones, ultrasonography is ideal for visualizing soft tissues.
- When the ultrasound waves encounter tissues with varying densities (e.g., healthy tissue, non-healthy tissue), these reflect different echo patterns, which can then be measured.
- The echo characteristics are determined by the specific features of the tissues.
An excellent alternative to MRI for claustrophobic patients
- MRI scans can be very loud and jarring. The confined space in the machine can be too much for claustrophobic patients.
- However, the use of handheld ultrasonic probes avoids any such confined feeling.
Can be used for a variety of medical cases
- Point-of-care ultrasound, therapeutic ultrasound, ocular ultrasound, intraoperative ultrasound, molecular ultrasonography, and contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging have gained popularity thanks to their wide range of use cases.
- While many people might simply associate ultrasonography with pregnancy, it is a versatile imaging technique that can help treat different medical conditions. It is also ideal for examining the thyroid gland and evaluating blood flow.
- Also, ultrasound scanning makes the diagnosis of chronic pain, neck pain, deep vein thrombosis, and many more conditions easier.
What are the risks of using ultrasound?
There are no known harmful effects. The method adopts low-power sound waves and is a valuable tool that can be used for many applications. However, certain limitations cannot be ignored.
Sound waves do not travel through bone or air. As a result, it is impossible to use for scanning bones or parts of the body hidden by bones, such as the lungs. For this, other types of imaging tests are appropriate.
Ultrasound scans use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the body. Thanks to their many advantages, ultrasound images are used in a wide range of applications. It can also detect injury to veins and show blood flow in blood vessels. With no known risks, the benefits of ultrasonography have ensured that medical professionals can easily recommend it if available. Ultrasonography is also convenient, easy to do, and can be fitted easily into a busy schedule.