Types of Ultrasound Exams

There are many types of ultrasound tests that vary depending on the body part being examined, but the basic process remains the same. Some of the various procedures include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: Identifies problems in the organs of the abdomen, such as the liver, gall bladder and pancreas.
  • Breast ultrasound: Used to examine a patient's breasts, often in conjunction with a mammogram.
  • Echocardiography: Used to evaluate the heart.
  • Pelvic ultrasound: Also known as gynecologic ultrasound, it's used to check a female patient's reproductive organs -- uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries -- for problems like cysts and fibroid tumors.
  • Obstetrical ultrasound: Also known as prenatal ultrasound, pregnancy ultrasound or fetal ultrasound, it keeps track of the growth and development of an unborn baby in the womb. This is the most common use of ultrasound technology.
  • Prostate ultrasound: Used to check a male patient's prostate if any abnormalities are felt during a physical examination.
  • Renal ultrasound: Examines the kidneys and urinary tract.
  • Scrotal ultrasound: Also known as testicular ultrasound, it's used to investigate pain in the testicles.
  • Thyroid ultrasound: Used to examine the thyroid gland in the neck (pictured).
  • Transvaginal scans: Instead of external placement, the ultrasound machine's transducer probe is inserted inside the patient's vagina to generate more complete images. This type of ultrasound is most often used during the early stages of pregnancy.

The format of an ultrasound exam can be Doppler (using the Doppler effect of sound wave pitch changes as they bounce off moving internal objects), standard 2-D, 3-D or even 4-D, which includes motion.