This page is for you if you are curious about what an ultrasound procedure is like. Because there are many different types of ultrasound tests (also called sonograms), there are different ways to prepare for them. When you call to schedule your procedure, you will be told if any special preparation (such as an overnight fast) is required.

The examination itself may be performed by a trained ultrasound technologist (also called a sonographer), by a radiologist, or both. Unlike most other specialists, radiologists’ primary job is to intepret medical images, and they have special training in the technology and techniques of ultrasound. They are also best equipped to use all the available clinical and other imaging information to arrive at a diagnosis.


For most ultrasound exams, you will be asked to lie on an examination table. The examiner will place a special gel on your skin to allow the sound waves to pass into your body, and will then move a hand-held device called a transducer over your body to obtain images. Depending on the area being scanned, you may be asked to lie in various positions, hold your breath, or perform other maneuvers. In some cases, you may even be asked to sit or stand. Most ultrasound exams are not painful, but it is important for you to let the examiner know if you feel pain at any time, because this may help the radiologist make a diagnosis.

If you have been scanned by a sonographer, a radiologist may come into the room to take additional pictures. This does not necessarily indicate that there is something wrong. It may allow the radiologist to be more certain that your exam is normal, or give the radiolgist a chance to ask you questions. If you are concerned, do not hesitate to ask the sonographer or radiologist.

We have separated ultrasound procedures into the most common categories. To assist you in deciding where to look, the different types of ultrasound and the kinds of things they are used for are described below. (Some of the procedures also have links that you can click on for further information.)  The website has patient-centered information on a wide range of imaging procedures.

Ultrasound Procedures

Vascular ultrasound Vascular ultrasound exams (also called Doppler studies) are intended primarily to look at blood vessels in various parts of the body. (Please click on the link at the left for more information.)
Echocardiogram (cardiac echo, cardiac ultrasound) Echocardiograms are performed to assess the heart valves, the effectiveness of the heart's pumping ability, evaluate a newly-diagnosed murmur, and for the diagnosis and follow-up of congenital heart disease or blood clots in the heart's chambers.
Abdominal ultrasound (gallbladder ultrasound, liver ultrasound, liver Doppler) Abdominal sonograms are performed to look for abnormalities anywhere in the abdomen. (Please click on the link at the left for more information.)
Renal ultrasound (ultrasound of the kidneys, kidney ultrasound, renal echography, renal Doppler) Renal ultrasound evaluates the kidneys and bladder for blockage, stones, tumors, and other abnormalities. Doppler ultrasound may be added to assess flow in the arteries and veins of the kidneys.
Obstetrical ultrasound (OB ultrasound, level I or level II OB ultrasound, pregnancy ultrasound, high risk pregnancy ultrasound) OB sonograms are done to evaluate pregancy at all stages. (Please click on the link at the left for more information.)
Pelvic ultrasound (endovaginal ultrasound)

Pelvic sonograms in women look at the uterus, ovaries, and other pelvic organs. Usually, the first part of the exam is done with the patient's bladder full. This is often followed by an endovaginal (or transvaginal) sonogram, which uses a special transducer that is inserted into the vagina.

Breast ultrasound These exams are done to evaluate a mass seen by the radiologist on a mammogram, and for drainage of breast cysts, biopsy of breast masses, or placement of marker-wires in breast masses prior to surgery to guide the surgeon.
Thyroid or parathyroid ultrasound Thyroid ultrasound evaluates the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck, for masses (nodules) or other abnormalities that are suspected because something has been felt on a physcial exam or seen on another imaging test, or to further investigate the cause of abnormal lab results. (Parathyroid ultrasound is similar, but is usually performed to look for enlarged parathyroid glands in patients with abnormal calcium or other test results.)
Scrotal ultrasound (testicular ultrasound, ultrasound of testicles, scrotal echography) Scotral sonography looks at the testicles (testes) and other structures for masses, infection, fluid collections, and other abnormalities. Often, Doppler ultrasound is also done at the same time to assess blood flow if torsion (twisting of the testicle causing pain) is suspected.
Prostate ultrasound (transrectal ultrasound of the prostate, TRUS)   This is done using a special transducer that is inserted into the rectum. It is performed to look for the cause of an abnormal blood test (PSA), or to evaluate a nodule felt by doctor during a rectal exam (during routine physical exam or prostate cancer screening examination).
Musculoskeletal ultrasound This type of ultrasound looks at muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones in patients with pain, masses, inflammation, and other abnormalities.
Interventional ultrasound, intraoperative ultrasound This type of ultrasound is done to guide placement of biopsy needles in various organs, drain infections (abcesses), assist the surgeon during operations that require "looking" where the surgeon can't see or feel, or monitor placement of special cancer destroying devices during surgery.