Ultrasound scanning

A diagnostic technique in which very high frequency sound waves are passed into the body and the reflected echoes analysed to build a picture of the internal organs or of a fetus in the uterus. The procedure is painless and considered safe. Ultrasonic waves are emitted by a transducer, which is placed on the skin over the part of the body to be viewed. The transducer contains a crystal that converts an electric current into sound waves. These pass readily through soft tissues and fluids, making this procedure useful for examining fluid-filled or soft organs. One of the most common uses of ultrasound is to view the uterus and fetus, at any time during pregnancy, but often at 18–20 weeks. The age, size, and growth rate of the fetus can be determined; multiple pregnancies detected; and certain problems, such as neural tube defects, diagnosed. Scans may be taken early in pregnancy if problems, such as an ectopic pregnancy, are suspected. Ultrasound scanning can also be used in newborn babies to examine the brain through a gap in the skull (for example, to investigate hydrocephalus). Ultrasound can help to diagnose disorders such as cirrhosis, gallstones, hydronephrosis, and pancreatitis, as well as problems in the thyroid gland, breasts, bladder, testes, ovaries, spleen, and eyes. The technique is also used during needle biopsy to help guide the needle. Doppler ultrasound is a modified form of ultrasound that uses the Doppler effect to investigate moving objects. This can be used to examine the fetal heartbeat and to obtain information about the rate of blood flow in vessels.


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