An ultrasound scan is a safe and painless test that uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. Ultrasound services provide a range of medical imaging techniques for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating diseases and disorders. It is used to aid in diagnosis of numerous medical conditions, from minor illnesses to more serious conditions.
You probably already know that ultrasounds are often used during pregnancy to check on the baby's health. But there are many other reasons you might need an ultrasound scan, such as:
- Examining your organs, like your liver, kidneys, or gallbladder.
- Checking for any blockages or blood clots in your blood vessels.
- Investigating the cause of pain or swelling in your joints or muscles.
- Guiding a doctor during certain medical procedures, like biopsies.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a specialist ultrasound scan, such as a transvaginal, transoesophageal, or transrectal ultrasound. These scans involve using a small ultrasound probe that is gently inserted into the body to get a closer look at specific areas.
Ultrasound can also be used in guided interventional procedures. This is a technique that uses ultrasound imaging during a medical procedures to ensure accuracy and safety. During this type of ultrasound, your doctor will use the real-time ultrasound images to guide them as they perform a procedure – such as inserting a needle for a biopsy, draining fluid from a cyst, or treating a specific area with targeted therapy.
At Blackrock Health, we understand that waiting for diagnostic results can be stressful. That's why we offer fast access to our state-of-the-art facilities in Blackrock, Galway, Hermitage and Limerick. Across our three hospitals and our diagnostic clinic, we are committed to ongoing investment in imaging and lab tests. By offering some of the most advanced imaging and diagnostic technology, we aim to provide accurate and timely diagnoses. Our team of experts has the capacity and expertise to perform, analyse, and report results for a wide range of tests. This ensures that you can receive the highest possible standards of care and support. Whether you need routine tests or more urgent imaging, we aim to give you the reassurance of a result with the least possible delay.
Ultrasound is a noninvasive, imaging test that shows structures inside your body, by using high-intensity sound waves, rather than radiation. Healthcare providers use ultrasound exams for several purposes, including diagnosing conditions and for image guidance during certain procedures.
It can also be used to guide the doctor to a specific internal structure for a particular treatment. Using ultrasound can help distinguish between benign and malignant growths by assessing size, shape, position and consistency. More information can also be obtained by a removing (or aspirating) a small piece of tissue through a needle, the position of which is guided by the ultrasound. This test is known as a Fine Needle Aspirate (FNA) or ultrasound-guided FNA.
Ultrasound imaging can also be called ultrasound scanning, or sonography, and involves sending very high frequency sound waves through a particular part of the body. These sound waves are reflected off the internal organs. Fluid filled structures, such as cysts or blood vessels, reflect very few sound waves or echoes, and show up black on a screen. In contrast, more solid structures show paler patterns, depending on their consistency.
The reflections are then processed by special instruments and powerful computers that subsequently measure and create a visual image of the organs. Ultrasound images are captured in real time and displayed on a television monitor.
What will happen during a scan?
An ultrasound examination is a painless, usually non-invasive, procedure. There are several methods of performing the examination depending on the part of the body being examined.
In most cases, no special preparation is needed before a routine ultrasound scan. We advise patients to wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing.
If the doctor wants to check the liver or gallbladder, the patient may be asked to fast for several hours before the procedure.
For individuals going for a renal scan, the patient will be asked to drink plenty of water and to avoid urinating several hours before the test.
If a pelvic scan is required, the bladder will need to be full, the patient will be asked to drink 1.5 litres of water 1 hour before their appointment. This will displace nearby loops of intestine and the scan produces a better image of the uterus and ovaries.
When you arrive for a scan you may be shown to a cubicle and asked to take off your outer clothing. Whether you have to undress or not will depend on the part of your body to be scanned. You will be taken into the scanning room and asked to lie on a couch next to the ultrasound machine.
A clear, waterbased gel will be spread onto your skin over the scanning site. This helps to transmit the sound waves to the microphone in the transducer. The Sonographer will press the transducer onto your skin and move it back and forth over the part of your body that is being scanned. The scan will appear on the machine screen, which will be next to you. Many people are familiar with this test as it is similar to that used to check on a baby during pregnancy
You will be awake throughout the examination.
You may be asked to take deep breaths in or move into different positions to obtain the best possible images. Depending on the type of scan being carried out, the examination will usually take between 10 minutes to half an hour.
At the end of the scan, the sonographer will wipe the gel from your skin and you will be able to get off the couch and put on any clothes you may have removed.
You will be able to go home once the scan is over. Some types of scan may require the transducer (probe) to be used internally. These are trans-vaginal; "trans" in this context means "through" the vagina. When scanning the female pelvis, a transvaginal approach is used as it may give superior quality images. For this scan, small pen-shaped transducer is given a protective cover, lubricated with a small amount of gel and then gently inserted into the vagina up to the cervix to get the best image. It should not cause more than a slight discomfort.
Other parts of the body which are commonly examined using an internal probe are the heart, and the prostate. The heart can be examined more closely through the oesophagus. The patient swallows a probe through the mouth, which goes into the oesophagus. This is called a Trans-Oesophageal Echo/ultrasound (TOE). The prostate can also be examined in more detail by using a different probe, inserted through the anal passage into the rectum. This is called a Trans- Rectal Ultrasound Scan (TRUS).
Specialist Ultrasound Procedures
Below are some specialist ultrasound procedures carried out across Blackrock Health hospitals.
Some of our imaging services are only available in select locations. Please check with your preferred location to confirm that the service you seek is offered there.
- Ultrasound Abdomen
- Ultrasound Aorta
- Carotid Doppler
- Ultrasound Gynae – Transvaginal
- Ultrasound Pelvis
- Ultrasound Renal
- Ultrasound Soft Tissue
- Ultrasound Testes
- Ultrasound Thyroid / Small Parts
- Venous Incompetence
- Ultrasound Guided Joint Aspiration (removal of fluid)
- Ultrasound Guided Joint Injection (administering medication, such as steroids)
- Ultrasound Guided Biopsies, also known as Ultrasound Guided Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA)
- Ultrasound Guided Drainage
- Ultrasound Guided Aspiration
Aortic Scan is an ultrasound-led scan of the aorta to assess it for aneurysms. This is commonly done as a screening test, particularly for those who have a family member diagnosed with an aneurysm.
Who carries out these tests?
There are a number of members of the Ultrasound team. These include the Sonographer, also known as an Ultrasound Technician. This is a healthcare professional with specialised third-level training in operating the sophisticated equipment required for tests. The Radiologist is a fully trained doctor, who has undertaken higher specialised training in the interpretation of images obtained from these tests, in order to help make your diagnosis, and in some cases undertake treatment.
When will I find out the results?
The sonographer will analyse the images and send a preliminary of the scan to the Radiologist who will in turn send a report to the referring doctor.
Are ultrasound scans dangerous?
Ultrasound is generally considered a ‘safe’ imaging modality. Medical research has found no side effects. Even so, scanning should not be carried out without clear medical reasons and all ultrasound exposure should be justified and limited to the minimum needed to make a diagnosis.
How do I get this?
You will need a referral letter from your GP or consultant before you make an appointment.
Is this insured?
Not all services are covered by health insurance. To find out if you're covered, please check your health insurance before your visit. You can do this on our health insurance cover check page, or by contacting your health insurer.
How do I pay?
If you do not have health insurance or your health plan does not cover the full cost, you will need to pay the balance due before your treatment or procedure. You may be able to claim back some fees on your insurance. To pay an excess not covered by your insurance or any other inpatient fees, please visit our payment page. If you have any queries about paying for your care, please contact the finance team in your hospital.