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Published by Bupa's health information team, December 2007.
This factsheet is for people who are having a pelvic ultrasound scan. Pelvic ultrasound produces images of the organs and structures in the lower abdomen and pelvis.
Ultrasound is a safe and painless procedure that doesn't use X-rays. Instead high-frequency sound waves and their echoes are used to create images (or scans) of the inside of your body. The images are black, white and grey and are usually displayed on a TV screen.
About pelvic ultrasound
Pelvic ultrasound can help identify abnormalities in the lower abdominal and pelvic organs such as kidney stones or bladder problems.
In women, pelvic ultrasound can help identify the cause of pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding and other menstrual problems. The scans can help diagnose and monitor ovarian cysts and fibroids in the womb, as well as ovarian and womb cancer.
In men, pelvic ultrasound can help identify abnormalities in the prostate and seminal vesicles (tubes that carry sperm).
Sometimes, ultrasound is used to help guide procedures such as needle biopsies. This is when a needle is used to take a small sample of tissue. The tissue is sent to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor uses ultrasound to see inside your body in real time and check the needle is reaching the correct tissue.
Your doctor may check for blood clots and narrowing of blood vessels during the scan. This is done using a Doppler ultrasound. Doppler ultrasound monitors flow in blood vessels. The procedure is the same as having a standard ultrasound.
A person having an ultrasound scan
Preparing for your ultrasound
Ultrasound scans are routinely done as out-patient procedures in hospital.
Please read your appointment letter for instructions on how to prepare for your scan. You may be asked to drink fluids about an hour before your check-up to fill your bladder. A full bladder helps to lift the large bowel out of the pelvis so that the pelvic organs can be seen more easily.
At the hospital you may be asked some questions about your health, past surgery, allergies and any medicines you are taking. You may be asked to sign a consent form. This confirms that you have given your permission for the scan to go ahead.
About the procedure
The scan usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. You may be asked to change into a gown.
The ultrasound scanner looks like a home computer system. There is a hard-drive, keyboard and a TV screen. In addition there is a sensor. The sensor sends out sound waves and picks up the returning echoes.
Images of the inside of your body are displayed on the TV screen. These images are constantly updated, so the scan can show movement. The scan is usually performed by a radiologist (a doctor specially trained at ultrasound techniques).
Pelvic ultrasound can be done in three ways. Depending on your medical condition you may have transabdominal, transvaginal or a transrectal scan.
You will be asked to lie down on a couch. A gel is applied to your skin on your abdomen over the area being examined. The gel allows the sensor to slide easily over your skin and helps to produce clearer images. The sensor is held firmly against your skin and moved over the surface.
This method is used to examine the reproductive organs (womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries) in women. You will be asked to lie on your back and a lubricated sensor (the size of a tampon) is inserted into your vagina.
This method is used to examine the prostate gland in men. You will be asked to lie on your left-hand side and a lubricated sensor is passed into your rectum. This examination is usually combined with a biopsy.
For transvaginal and transrectal scans the sensor is usually covered with a condom. Please tell your examiner if you suffer from a latex allergy, so that a suitable condom can be used.
Permanent copies of the scan are stored on computer or printed.
You will be able to go home when the scan is complete.
The details of your scan may be explained to you immediately after the examination. Alternatively your results may be sent in a report to the doctor who requested your scan. This can take several days to reach your doctor.
What are the risks?
Ultrasound examination is painless and safe. It does not use radiation and so carries none of the associated risks.
Standard diagnostic ultrasound has no harmful side-effects. You may feel slight discomfort as the sensor is pressed against the area being examined.
Pelvic ultrasound Q&As
See our answers to common questions about pelvic ultrasound, including:
- Information for adult patients having an ultrasound scan. The Royal College of Radiologists.
accessed 2 October 2007
- Pelvic ultrasound. RadiologyInfo. Radiological Society of North America.
accessed 1 October 2007
This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by consultant radiologist Daniel Boxer, MRCP(UK), FRCR at Spire Bushey Hospital and by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
Publication date: December 2007.