What Are the Different Types of Ultrasound and What Do They Detect?

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When you hear the word “ultrasound,” you probably think of the cute, grainy photo parents-to-be proudly show their family and friends.

While pregnancy ultrasounds are the most common, they only make up 24% of all ultrasounds performed in the developing world. There are many types of ultrasound images used to detect a variety of medical conditions, from non-threatening to life-threatening. 

Here is a list of the most common types of ultrasounds.  

A Brief Overview of Ultrasounds

An ultrasound is a diagnostic tool used to take a picture of the inside of your body, including tissue, organs, and vessels.  

Ultrasounds are noninvasive, painless, safe, and radiation-free.

Sonogram Vs. Ultrasound

Many people use ultrasound and sonogram interchangeably, but both words refer to different things. 

An ultrasound creates images, while a sonogram is an image created by the ultrasound.

How Long Does An Ultrasound Take?

The average ultrasound takes about 30 minutes

Some types of ultrasounds may take longer, depending on the details needed and how many areas are being imaged.

How Much Is An Ultrasound?

The price of an ultrasound test varies depending on many factors, including the type of ultrasound you need, your location, and your insurance benefits.

Generally speaking, the cost can be anywhere between $100 and $1,000 for an ultrasound. 

Abdominal

An abdominal ultrasound is used to image the organs in the upper abdomen and some of the blood vessels that lead to those organs. 

An abdominal ultrasound can detect several conditions, including:

  • Kidney stones
  • Gallstones
  • Cancer
  • Hernia
  • Tumors
  • Appendicitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Aortic aneurysm 

An abdominal ultrasound is also referred to as a general ultrasound.

Breast and Breast Biopsy

A breast ultrasound is typically used after a suspicious lump or other abnormality is found on a mammogram.

If the ultrasound indicates a biopsy is needed, some physicians will recommend an ultrasound-guided biopsy.

This type of biopsy is minimally invasive and allows a radiologist to guide the biopsy needle directly into the abnormality to take tissue samples. 

A breast ultrasound is primarily used to detect breast cancer.

Carotid

A carotid ultrasound is used to image the carotid arteries in the neck and examine the blood flow through those arteries. 

It detects plaque buildup that is blocking blood flow to the arteries, which is a major cause of strokes.

Hysterosonogram

A hysterosonogram is used to image the uterus and is an important part of the in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, process.

This ultrasound is different than others because it is performed after the uterus is filled with sterile saline. 

The saline fills the uterus and separates the walls of the uterus, which provides a better view of any abnormalities.

A hysterosonogram is used to detect:

You may have heard this type of ultrasound referred to as saline ultrasound, saline sonogram, saline infusion sonogram, or a sonohystogram. 

Musculoskeletal

The musculoskeletal ultrasound is used to image the muscles, tendons, nerves, joints, and ligaments in your body.

This ultrasound is used to detect many different issues, including: 

  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Trapped nerves
  • Tension neck syndrome
  • Degenerative disc disease

Obstetric

Obstetric ultrasounds, or pregnancy ultrasounds, are the most common and are used to image the embryo or fetus, along with the uterus and ovaries. 

This type of ultrasound is used during the entire pregnancy for many things, some of which include: 

  • The location of the pregnancy
  • The number of embryos
  • The age of the pregnancy
  • Monitor the physical development of the fetus
  • Diagnose birth defects
  • Guide certain prenatal tests

Pelvic (Women)

In women, a pelvic ultrasound is used to image all of the organs and structures in the entire pelvic area, including:

  • Ovaries
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Uterus
  • Bladder
  • Cervix
  • Vagina

The pelvic ultrasound detects many issues in the pelvic area, some of which include:

  • Abnormal bleeding 
  • Abnormal pain
  • Fibroids, cysts, masses and other types of growths
  • Postmenopausal bleeding
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Fertility problems

In women, the ultrasound may also be completed through the vagina or a transvaginal ultrasound.

Pelvic (Men)

In men, a pelvic ultrasound is used to image the following areas:

  • Prostate gland
  • Bladder
  • Bowel
  • Kidneys
  • All the blood vessels in the area

The male pelvic ultrasound is primarily used to detect prostate problems and bladder stones.

Thyroid and Thyroid Biopsy

A thyroid ultrasound is used to image the thyroid gland in your neck.

This type of ultrasound is typically used if your doctor has felt or noticed a lump on your neck or a thyroid test has shown abnormal results. 

During the ultrasound, your doctor looks for:

  • Tumors
  • Nodules
  • Cysts

If the ultrasound indicates a biopsy is needed, you may also have an ultrasound-guided biopsy to take tissue samples from the abnormality.

Depending on the results, you may undergo thyroid surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid.

Generally speaking, thyroid ultrasounds are used to detect problems with the thyroid, including cancer. 

Venous Extremities

Venous extremities ultrasounds are used to image the veins in the upper and lower extremities of your body, generally when there is a suspected case of deep vein thrombosis.  

This type of ultrasound is used to detect:

  • Blood clots in the legs and/or arms
  • The cause of long-term swelling in the legs
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Leaky valves in the veins
  • Blood flow blockage

In addition to detecting these serious issues, venous extremities ultrasounds are also used for specific, vein-related treatment, including:

  • Mapping the veins in the arms and legs to prepare for a bypass
  • Placing a catheter or needle into a vein
  • Monitoring blood vessel grafts and stints 

The venous extremities ultrasound may include a Doppler ultrasound, which is used to measure how much blood is flowing through your veins and arteries to your arms and legs. 

Now You Know the Several Types of Ultrasound

There are many types of ultrasound procedures, used to diagnose many different conditions. 

Ultrasounds are an excellent way to see what is happening inside your body without causing pain and discomfort.

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