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An ultrasound is a medical imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. It is a non-invasive and painless procedure that is typically performed by a specially trained technician.

During an ultrasound, the technician applies a small amount of gel to the skin and uses a handheld device called a transducer to emit sound waves into the body. The sound waves bounce off internal organs and tissues, and the echoes are captured by the transducer and processed by a computer to create images that can be viewed on a monitor.

The length of time an ultrasound takes can vary depending on the area of the body being imaged, but typically it takes around 30 minutes to complete.

Most people do not experience pain during an ultrasound. However, some people may experience mild discomfort from the pressure of the transducer on their skin.

Common diagnoses made by an ultrasound include:

  • Pregnancy, including confirming pregnancy, monitoring fetal development, and checking for potential complications such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

  • Abdominal conditions, such as gallstones, liver disease, and pancreatic cancer.

  • Pelvic conditions, such as ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and prostate cancer.

  • Breast conditions, such as lumps or masses.

  • Thyroid conditions, such as nodules or enlargement.

  • Vascular conditions, such as blood clots or aneurysms.

Your Ultrasound MAY require preparation.   Here is a lit of some studies that do require some pre-thought.

Instructions should be given to you prior to your test. In general, here are the guidelines:

Abdominal Ultrasound and Abdominal Ultrasound with Doppler

(Liver, spleen, gallbladder, kidneys, pancreas, abdominal aorta, biliary system)​

  • Adults: Do not eat or drink eight hours before exam.

  • Children: Do not eat or drink four hours before study or skip one meal.

  • Take medications with a small sip of water.

  • If you are diabetic, please take your insulin

Pelvic Ultrasound

(Uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, urinary bladder)​​

  • Eat normally.

  • One hour before your exam, drink 32 ounces of water.

  • Do not empty your bladder before your exam.

Bladder Ultrasound

  • For both male and female patients, one hour before your exam, drink 32 ounces of water.

Prostate-Transrectal Ultrasound

  • Very specific - ask about the prep

Transvaginal Ultrasound

  • Drink 32 ounces of any liquid one hour before the exam. Do not urinate before the exam so you arrive for at the exam with a full bladder.


  • No unprotected sexual relations during the first 10 days of your menstrual cycle.

Ultrasound-Guided Biopsies

Ultrasound breast biopsy

  • You must be off aspirin, blood thinners and vitamin E for seven days prior to your biopsy.

Liver biopsy / paracentesis / thoracentesis / prostate biopsy

  • Do not eat or drink after midnight the day before your biopsy.

  • You must be off aspirin, blood thinners and vitamin E for seven days before your biopsy.

What to expect during an ultrasound scan from MD Anderson Cancer Center

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