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Ultrasound is a noninvasive imaging test that shows structures inside your body using high-intensity sound waves. Healthcare providers use ultrasound exams for several purposes, including during pregnancy, for diagnosing conditions and for image guidance during certain procedures.

What is an ultrasound?

Ultrasound (also called sonography or ultrasonography) is a noninvasive imaging test. An ultrasound picture is called a sonogram. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create real-time pictures or video of internal organs or other soft tissues, such as blood vessels.

Ultrasound enables healthcare providers to “see” details of soft tissues inside your body without making any incisions (cuts). And unlike X-rays, ultrasound doesn’t use radiation.

Although most people associate ultrasound with pregnancy, healthcare providers use ultrasound for many different situations and to look at several different parts of the inside of your body.

How does an ultrasound work?

During an ultrasound, a healthcare provider passes a device called a transducer or probe over an area of your body or inside a body opening. The provider applies a thin layer of gel to your skin so that the ultrasound waves are transmitted from the transducer through the gel and into your body.

The probe converts electrical current into high-frequency sound waves and sends the waves into your body’s tissue. You can’t hear the sound waves.

Sound waves bounce off structures inside your body and back to the probe, which converts the waves into electrical signals. A computer then converts the pattern of electrical signals into real-time images or videos, which are displayed on a computer screen nearby.

What are the different kinds of ultrasounds?

There are three main categories of ultrasound imaging, including:

  • Pregnancy ultrasound (prenatal ultrasound).

  • Diagnostic ultrasound.

  • Ultrasound guidance for procedures.

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