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Preparing for an Ultrasound

What Is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use ionizing radiation (X-ray). Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.

Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy. A registered, diagnostic medical sonographer will position you on the table, apply warm gel on your skin (over the area being imaged), and will then press on the skin with a hand-held transducer to obtain the necessary images.

The images are then analyzed and interpreted by a Board certified radiologist.  The radiologist will send a signed report to your referring physician, who will share the results with you.

WakeMed uses state-of-the art imaging systems, which provide unprecedented quality for medical diagnosis in a wide range of areas including abdominal, OB/gynecology, breast, scrotum and thyroid.  Ultrasound is also used to guide special procedures such as biopsies and fluid removal.

Preparing For Your Exam

Some ultrasound exams require special preparation. It is important that you follow the preparation guidelines so the sonographer can obtain the best possible images.

Abdominal Examinations

Abdominal ultrasound examinations may be ordered for a patient with abdominal pain, abnormal laboratory tests, follow up to other types of imaging tests, evaluation of the aorta for aneurysm, or a variety of other symptoms and indications. Color Doppler Imaging may also be used during an abdominal ultrasound exam to assess blood flow in abdominal organs and structures.

Complete abdominal ultrasound includes a thorough survey of the following abdominal organs and related structures:

  • Liver  
  • Bile ducts
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Aorta
  • Kidneys


Right upper quadrant ultrasound may be ordered to target the following structures:

  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Bile ducts
  • Right kidney


Retroperitoneal ultrasound may be ordered to target the following structures:

  • Kidneys
  • Bladder
  • Aorta


Patient Preparation

Patient must go without food and drink for six hours prior to an abdominal study.
Necessary medications may be taken with a small amount of water only. No chewing gum please.
An ultrasound to evaluate only the kidneys does not require a six hour fast.

Obstetrics & Gynecology

Pelvic Ultrasound

High-resolution diagnostic ultrasound assists the physician in the evaluation of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and related anatomy. Color Doppler Imaging may be used during a pelvic ultrasound exam to assess blood flow in pelvic organs and structures.
Patient Preparation
Patients must have a full bladder before the pelvic exam can be performed. Patients should finish drinking 36 ounces of water one hour before their appointment time. Patients should not empty their bladder once they have started drinking.

Obstetrical Ultrasound

Ultrasound may be performed during any stage of pregnancy. In early pregnancy, ultrasound is used to determine fetal age and viability. In the second and third trimesters, ultrasound is used to evaluate the fetus, monitor fetal growth and position, check amniotic fluid, survey the placental location, etc.

Patient Preparation

First Trimester - Please follow preparation for pelvic exam as seen above.
Second and third trimester - No patient preparation is necessary.
Unknown dates - Please follow preparation for pelvic exam as seen above.

Endovaginal Ultrasound

When conventional scanning methods do not provide accurate diagnostic information, the physician may request an endovaginal ultrasound. The endovaginal transducer allows close evaluation of the uterus, ovaries and cervix. This technology provides a clear image of the reproductive organs because it is only inches away, rather than through the abdomen, where intestinal contents and gas sometimes obscure the view. The endovaginal transducer is also used in early pregnancy to detect fetal heart motion and to aid in the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancies.

Patient Preparation

A brief, conventional pelvic ultrasound exam is performed prior to an endovaginal exam to evaluate the entire pelvis and adnexa, therefore patients should follow the same prep required for a conventional pelvic ultrasound exam.

Thyroid Ultrasound

A physician may use an ultrasound examination of the neck to help diagnose a lump in the thyroid or a thyroid that is not functioning properly.  The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck just below the Adam's apple and is shaped like a butterfly, with two lobes on either side of the neck.  It is one of nine endocrine glands located throughout the body. No preparation is required for this exam.

Breast Ultrasound

The most common application of breast ultrasound is to investigate a specific area of the breast where a problem is suspected.  This may be a palpable lump and/or a lump or density discovered by X-ray imaging (mammogram). Ultrasound is especially helpful in distinguishing between a fluid-filled cyst and a solid mass. No preparation is required for this exam.

Scrotal Ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging of the scrotum is the primary imaging method used to evaluate disorders of the testicles and surrounding areas. It is used when a patient is experiencing pain or swelling in the scrotum, a mass has been felt by the patient or doctor, or there's been a trauma to the scrotal area. Some of the problems ultrasound imaging can identify include: inflammation of the scrotum, an absent or undescended testicle, testicular torsion, abnormal blood vessels, or a lump or tumor. No preparation is required for this exam.