Always choose the best for your most precious possession: your health.

Pietro Ticci

The hip of a newborn baby, the shoulder of a young athlete, the breasts of an adult woman, the bladder of an elderly man…

These things may not seem connected, but they can all be “seen” by ultrasound. By moving and orientating a probe, the doctor captures images of organs and tissues inside the body. Ultrasounds work by using sound waves of a high frequency which rebound when they meet an object. These waves are captured by the ultrasound machine, decodified and transformed into highly detailed images, like a “map” of the organs and tissues studied.

Unlike X rays, ultrasound waves penetrate tissues and organs without causing any damage. Neither the patient nor the doctor need to be protected and the exam can be repeated as often as required.

Ultrasound is used to investigate many organs and tissues including the thyroid, the breast, muscles, the liver and bile ducts, the pancreas, the spleen, the kidneys, the prostate, the bladder and the uterus and ovaries. It can reveal structural alterations caused by many diseases.

Ultrasound can’t be used on all parts of the body because the sound waves cannot pass through bone or air. Organs surrounded by bone or air can’t be seen as the waves are reflected back.

Before an abdominal ultrasound (especially of the liver and gallbladder) it is recommended that you avoid foods that could create gas in the intestines for at least 1-3 days. You should completely avoid vegetables, legumes, milk products, fizzy drinks and coffee. Cereals can be consumed in moderation 2-3 days before the exam but avoided the day before. You should avoid using seasonings and condiments. On the day of the exam, you should not eat anything for 5 hours before your appointment (you can drink water and should take any medicine as normal).

For ultrasounds of the pelvic organs (the bladder, the prostrate, the uterus and ovaries), you should arrive at your appointment with a full bladder. Finish drinking about a litre of water an hour before the exam.

If you suffer from constipation you may need to use an enema the evening before you have a transrectal or prostrate ultrasound.

For all other ultrasound appointments, no preparation is necessary.

Normally you will be asked to lie on your back or your side depending on which part of your body needs to be examined.

The doctor will disinfect the probe with a non-toxic disinfectant and apply a gel to your skin. The gel is warmed to body temperature as some patients, especially children, find the cold gel uncomfortable. The doctor will move the probe over your skin. You may be asked to hold in your breath for a few seconds and it is usually necessary for the patient to change position to complete the exam.

An ultrasound usually lasts about 30 minutes but in some cases it may take as long as an hour. You’ll normally be given photos and a cd of your results immediately and they can also be sent to your home. At most you will need to wait 24 hours to have copies of your results.

After your ultrasound you can return to your normal routine. In some cases, it might be necessary to repeat the ultrasound, for example if your preparation for your appointment wasn’t complete and results were compromised.

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