What is Ultrasound?

An ultrasound scan is a method of imaging the body using high frequency sound waves over 20kHz. These waves are inaudible to the human ear.

A small hand held probe is placed against the skin, to which a coupling agent (ultrasound gel) is applied. This allows transmission of the sound waves into the body.

A small hand held probe is moved across the skin surface, which generates sound waves. It detects any echoes reflected off the tissue boundaries within the body, which then produces an image.

The probe can be moved across the body to visualize the internal organs from different positions, with a resultant image being displayed on the TV monitor in real time.

Ultrasound can image many parts of the human body. Being simple and safe ultrasound is often the first line of investigation, but may be complemented by other forms of scans such as CT or MRI.

What are the risks?

There are no known risks and ultrasound is considered to be very safe, as it uses mechanical vibrations and NOT ionising radiation.

Is there any special preparation?

It is often necessary to prepare for a scan.

Upper abdominal scans require you to starve 6 hours prior to the examination. This enables the gallbladder and to fill, reduce intestinal gas and to keep the stomach empty, as this can obscure the organs. You can drink a little water, black tea or coffee. No milk is allowed.

For gynaecological and renal scans, you will be asked to attend with a full bladder. It is best to drink 1 litre of fluid an hour before the examination.

For small parts imaging, such as testes, tendons, muscles and scans of the neck, no preparation is required.

Who will you see?

A Radiologist or Sonographer (who is appropriately trained), depending on what type of examination you are having.

What happen during the scan?

You will be asked about your health and current symptoms relating to the scan.

You will be asked to lie down on the couch. You generally will not be asked to change into a hospital gown, but will be asked to remove clothes away from the area being examined.

The room will be dimly lit as to aid visual assessment of the monitor.

The Radiologist/Sonographer will sit or stand by your side and gel will be applied to the skin. A probe is gently moved across the area of interest. You may be asked to roll onto your side, sit or even stand during the examination.

For abdominal examinations you will be asked to take deep breaths and hold your breath for a few moments. If you require a full bladder and it is uncomfortable, tell the Radiologist/Sonographer and they will assess this first and then let you empty it.

Occasionally the bladder may not be full enough to assess and you will be asked to drink some more fluid and sit and wait until the bladder fills.

As Southampton is a teaching hospital, professionals who are training may be present at the time of your scan. If you do not wish a student to be present then please inform the Radiologist/Sonographer before the examination starts.

How long will it take?

Most examinations take 10-15 minutes. More specialized scans can take up to an hour e.g. vascular examinations of blood flow. You will be advised on your appointment letter.

Unfortunately delays do sometimes happen, due to emergencies, please be patient.

Will it be uncomfortable?

Ultrasound itself does not produce discomfort. Apart from the probe on your skin you will not feel anything.

If a full bladder is required, sometimes this can be uncomfortable.

If you are in a lot of pain the probe pressure may be uncomfortable.

Are there any side effects?

No. You can drive home afterwards and return to work as appropriate.

Can you eat and drink afterwards?

Yes. Follow your normal dietary routine.

Can you bring a friend/relative?

Yes. One adult may accompany you.

When will you get the results?

After the scan, the images will be examined further by the Radiologist/Sonographer, who will then prepare a written report. This will be sent to your referring clinician.

GP referrals take 10-14 days for the report to become available at your surgery.

If it is a hospital consultant referral, the results will be sent through to them in clinic. As a general rule, an outpatient appointment will be arranged for you at the appropriate clinic to discuss the results.

If you have a query.

Ring the appropriate hospital between 9am - 5pm.

A contact phone number will be on you appointment letter.

If you have complaint please use the Contact Us link at the top of the screen.