Ultrasound imaging, also known as sonography, uses high-frequency sound waves from a hand-held transducer to create a real-time image of soft tissue inside the body. The transducer sends out and receives the sound waves, which it feeds to a computer for measurement and imaging. Ultrasound scanning is painless, though there may be some mild discomfort, depending on what region of the body is being imaged; sometimes, the transducer has to be pressed more firmly against the body to get a good image. It’s a non-invasive procedure that doesn’t use radiation or magnetic waves, so it’s safe for nearly all patients, even pregnant women and people with implanted medical devices like pacemakers. In fact, there are no known side effects of ultrasound imaging.
Most people have heard of ultrasound because it’s the most commonly used way to get a look at a baby as it grows, but it has many other medical uses as well. It can help diagnose patients with unexplained pain or swelling and can help identify infections. Sonography is also an invaluable tool in situations where doctors need the information provided by a “live view” inside the patient’s body: Blood flow constrictions, or guided breast biopsies, for example.