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What Is a Pelvic Ultrasound?

A pelvic ultrasound is a test doctors use to see the organs inside your pelvis. Pelvic ultrasounds help your doctor or health care provider make sure your reproductive organs are healthy. These include your:

  • uterus,
  • cervix,
  • vagina,
  • fallopian tubes,
  • and ovaries.

Your doctor can also use a special type of ultrasound called a Doppler ultrasound to see if blood in your pelvic organs is flowing how it should.

How Do Pelvic Ultrasounds Work?

Ultrasounds work by using a tool called a transducer. A transducer sends (or directs) sound waves through your skin and tissues to your organs. These sound waves then spring off your organs like an echo, traveling back to the transducer. (Because these sound waves are so high, human ears can’t hear them).

The transducer detects these reflected waves, which help form a picture of your organs.

During your ultrasound, an ultrasound technician will put a clear gel on your skin. The gel will help your technician smoothly move the transducer over your skin. The gel also makes it easier to conduct sound waves.

Two Types of Pelvic Ultrasounds

Health providers can perform a pelvic ultrasound in one of two ways:

  1. Transabdominal: During a transabdominal ultrasound, your ultrasound technician will slide the transducer across your tummy using gel.
  2. Transvaginal: During a transvaginal ultrasound, your technician will insert a long, thin transducer into your vagina. Transducers are covered with plastic or latex sheets.

The type of ultrasound you have will depend on why you need an ultrasound in the first place. Some women only need one of these types of ultrasounds. Other women need both a transabdominal and a transvaginal ultrasound so their doctor can diagnose a condition or provide a certain treatment.

What Does a Pelvic Ultrasound Show?

Sometimes women need pelvic ultrasounds so their doctor can look at or measure their reproductive organs. Doctors can use ultrasounds to see:

  • the size and shape of your ovaries and uterus and see where they sit inside your body;
  • the density (or echogenicity) and thickness of your pelvic tissues and organs;
  • fluids or tissue masses in your bladder, endometrium, fallopian tubes, and uterus muscles (myometrium);
  • the thickness and length of your cervix;
  • changes in your bladder’s shape;
  • and blood flow in your pelvic organs.

Can a Pelvic Ultrasound Diagnose Cancer?

Pelvic ultrasounds are valuable because they give your doctor useful information about the size, location, and any potential problems in your pelvic organs. But ultrasounds can’t be used on their own to diagnose cancer or other diseases. Your doctor will need more tests to diagnose cancer or other specific diseases.

Pelvic ultrasounds help doctors:

  • identify problems with how your uterus works, like endometrial conditions;
  • find benign (harmless) growths like fibroid tumors and cysts, as well as other kinds of tumors in your pelvis;
  • find an IUD (a type of birth control called an intrauterine device) that may have shifted inside your uterus;
  • spot pelvic inflammatory disease and other infections and types of inflammation;
  • figure out why a woman is bleeding after menopause;
  • monitor your ovaries if you’re being treated for infertility;
  • collect fluid and eggs in your ovaries for IVF (in vitro fertilization). Doctors collect eggs from your follicles—or egg sacs;
  • diagnose pregnancy problems. A pelvic ultrasound can see if a fertilized egg has implanted outside your uterus in your fallopian tubes. This is called an ectopic pregnancy.
  • monitor a fetus as it grows during pregnancy;
  • and recognize health problems in a growing fetus.

Doctors can also use pelvic ultrasounds for other procedures like endometrial biopsy.

Transvaginal Ultrasounds & Sonohysterographies

Some doctors pair transvaginal ultrasounds with a procedure called sonohysterography.

During this procedure, a health care provider will fill your uterus with fluid. This helps your ultrasound technician get better images of your reproductive organs.

Are There Any Risks With Pelvic Ultrasounds?

Ultrasounds have few risks, and they don’t use radiation.

Some women who have certain health conditions may have other risks. Always talk with your doctor before your ultrasound if you have any concerns.

Do Pelvic Ultrasounds Hurt?

  • During transabdominal ultrasounds, most women don’t feel any pain or discomfort when the technician moves the transducer across their tummy. But you may be uncomfortable if you have a full bladder. Some women also find laying on the exam table uncomfortable.
  • If you’re having a transvaginal ultrasound, you may feel mild pain when the technician inserts the transducer into your vagina.

Some women need to have a transabdominal ultrasound right away for health reasons. If you need a transabdominal ultrasound quickly, your doctor may insert a tiny tube called urinary catheter into your bladder. The urinary catheter will use fluid to fill up your bladder.

Latex Allergies & Transvaginal Ultrasounds

Transducers used in transvaginal ultrasounds are covered in latex or plastic sheets. So, you may have an allergic reaction if you are allergic to latex. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re allergic to latex before your ultrasound.

Pelvic Ultrasound Results: Can Anything Affect an Ultrasound’s Accuracy?

Some things may impact the accuracy of your ultrasound. These include:

  • severe obesity,
  • intestinal gas,
  • and barium in your bowel (if you’ve had a recent barium test).

Having an empty bladder can also affect the results of a transabdominal ultrasound. It’s important to have a full bladder because this extra fluid will help your technician get a better image of your organs. Fluid will move your uterus up and your bowels to the side.

How Do I Prepare For My Pelvic Ultrasound Appointment?

  • Before your ultrasound, your doctor will explain how the scan will work. If you have any questions, be sure to ask.
  • If you are sensitive or allergic to latex, be sure to tell your doctor before your ultrasound.
  • Most women can eat and drink before their scan. You won’t need any medicine to help you relax or go to sleep. Your doctor may give you medication if your ultrasound is part of another procedure that uses anesthesia.
  • Wear clothing you can get gel on. The gel that technicians put on your skin won’t stain your clothes, but some of the gel may stick to your skin after your ultrasound.
  • If you’re having a transabdominal ultrasound, your provider will ask you to drink several glasses of water one to two hours before your ultrasound. Be sure not to go to the bathroom and urinate until after your ultrasound is over.
  • If you’re having a transvaginal ultrasound, be sure to urinate right before your ultrasound.
  • Follow all other directions from your doctor before the procedure.

What Will Happen During My Pelvic Ultrasound?

Some women have pelvic ultrasounds right in their provider’s office. Other women have an ultrasound when they’re staying in the hospital.

When and where your ultrasound is done may depend on your condition and your doctor’s practices.

Transabdominal ultrasound

  1. Your technician will ask you to take off any clothing, accessories, or jewelry that could get in the way of the ultrasound equipment.
  2. If your technician asks you to remove your clothes, your technician will also give you a robe to wear.
  3. You will lay down on your back on an exam table, just like during a pelvic exam or Pap smear.
  4. Your technician will rub gel on your tummy (abdomen).
  5. Your technician will then put the transducer on your skin and slide it across your tummy to see your organs.
  6. You may hear a swooshing sound if your technician is using a Doppler probe to check your blood flow.
  7. If you like, you can look at images of your pelvic organs on a computer screen. Your technician will record these images for your medical records.
  8. Your technician will wipe the gel off your tummy when the ultrasound is over.
  9. You can urinate and empty your bladder after your ultrasound is finished.

Transvaginal ultrasound

  1. Before a transvaginal ultrasound, your technician will ask you to take off any clothing or jewelry if these things may get in the way of the ultrasound equipment.
  2. If you have to take off your clothing, your technician will give you a robe to wear during the ultrasound.
  3. Next, your technician will ask you to lie flat on the exam table. Supports will prop up your feet and legs, just like during a pelvic exam or Pap smear.
  4. If you’re having a transvaginal ultrasound, your technician will put a plastic or latex sheet over the transducer with some gel. Your technician will then insert the tip of the transducer into your vagina. This may hurt or be a little uncomfortable.
  5. Your technician will gently move the transducer around to find the best angle so she can see your pelvic organs clearly. Some women feel a little pressure when technicians move the transducer inside their vagina.
  6. You may hear a swooshing sound if your technician is using a Doppler probe. A Doppler probe helps your doctor make sure your blood is flowing the way it should.
  7. If you’d like, you can look at images of your pelvic organs on a computer screen. Your technician will record these images for your health records.
  8. Your ultrasound technician will remove the transducer out of your vagina once she finishes looking at your organs.

What Will Happen After My Pelvic Ultrasound?

After your pelvic ultrasound is over, you won’t have to change your normal activities or routine. You can also get back to your regular eating and drinking habits unless your doctor gives you special instructions.

Your doctor may give you more instructions for follow-up care depending on your health or any conditions you have.

What’s Next?

Sometimes doctors may recommend follow-up tests or procedures after your pelvic ultrasound. You have a right to know the full details of your medical care and have all your questions answered.

After your pelvic ultrasound, make sure you know the answers to these questions before you agree to any follow-up tests or procedures:

  • What is the test or procedure’s name?
  • Why do you need it? How will it benefit your health?
  • What results does your health care provider expect to get from the procedure? What will they mean for your health?
  • What are the risks and benefits?
  • Are there possible side effects or complications?
  • When and where will you have the procedure or test?
  • Who will do your procedure? What are their qualifications?
  • What will happen if you don’t have this test or procedure?
  • Any there any alternative tests or procedures you could consider?
  • Results: When and how will you receive them?
  • Who can you call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems?
  • How much does the procedure cost? Will your insurance cover any of it? If so, how much?

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