Pelvic ultrasound is a painless imaging test that is used to examine and produce real-time images of the pelvis and lower abdomen.
Pelvic ultrasound can help to diagnose a variety of conditions in both men, women, and children. Unlike x-ray which uses radiation, ultrasound makes use of sound waves and requires little or no special preparation.
Types of Pelvic Ultrasound
There are three types of pelvic ultrasound namely;
- Transabdominal ultrasound: This type of pelvic ultrasound can be carried out on both men, women, and children. It can be used to diagnose a variety of conditions such as appendix, gallbladder, spleen, and others.
- Transvaginal ultrasound: This type of pelvic ultrasound is mostly carried out on women. It is used to examine the female reproductive organs and also to monitor and confirm pregnancy
- Transrectal ultrasound: This type of ultrasound is mostly carried out on males. It is used to check prostate glands and diagnose a variety of conditions in males such as difficulty in urinating.
Uses of Pelvic Ultrasound
Since ultrasound scans are used to produce real-time images of the internal organs/structure, in women pelvic ultrasound can be used to evaluate and diagnose the following.
- Womb or uterus
- Fallopian tubes
- Abnormal vagina bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Uterine scars
- Endometrial polyps
- Kidney stones
- Bladder tumors
It can also be used to monitor the development and health of an embryo during pregnancy. And also help to identify conditions such as uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroid.
In children, it can help to evaluate;
- Pelvic pain
- Early or late puberty in girls
- Pelvic masses
- Abnormalities of pelvic organs and ambiguous genitalia
In men, it can help to diagnose;
- Urinary bladder disorders
- Kidney stones
- Bladder tumors
Pelvic ultrasound can also serve as a guide to procedures such as needle biopsy a situation where needles are used to extract a sample of cell from an organ for a Lab test.
Who Performs the Pelvic Ultrasound Exam
Pelvic ultrasound is performed by an ultrasound technologist or sonographer. A diagnostic radiologist or radiologist is a medical professional who is trained to interpret ultrasound images and other medical imaging tests such as MRI scans, ultrasound and CT scans.
Procedures of Pelvic Ultrasound
The procedures of a pelvic ultrasound differ according to the type of pelvic ultrasound you may undergo.
- For transabdominal ultrasound: You will lay down face up on a table in the ultrasound room which is usually dark and a water-based gel will be rubbed on your abdomen to reduce friction and help the transducer slide across your skin. The sonographer will occasionally move the transducer back and forth while pressing the transducer down from time to time. You might be asked to hold your breath or change your position for a short while to enable the sonographer to have a clear imaging that will help diagnose your condition. After this, the water-based gel is then wiped off from your skin.
- For transvaginal ultrasound: In the ultrasound room which usually has dark or dimly light, you will be asked to lay down on your back with your knees bent on a table. Depending on the type of exam, you may be asked to empty your bladder or keep your bladder full. The sonographer will then cover the transducer with a condom and lubricating gel and insert it into your vagina and slowly move or rotate the transducer in a side-to-side movement while it’s inside your body to have a clear picture of the internal organs and may apply saline infusion sonography (SIS) to help stretch the uterus slightly. This will enable the sonographer to have a clear imaging that will help diagnose your condition.
- For transrectal ultrasound: In the ultrasound room, you will be asked to lay down sideways on a table facing away from the sonographer and your hips and knees slightly flexed. The sonographer will place a lubricated disposable protective cover on the transducer and insert it into your anus and placed in the rectum in order to obtain clear images from different angles.
What you may Experience during and after a Pelvic ultrasound
What you may experience during the ultrasound exam differs according to the type of pelvic ultrasound you will undergo.
- For transabdominal ultrasound: During a transabdominal ultrasound, you may experience minimal or no discomfort as the transducer presses against your skin.
- For transvaginal ultrasound: During a transvaginal ultrasound, you may experience minimal discomfort as the transducer is inserted into your vagina. Any pain or discomfort during this exam is usually temporary.
- For transrectal ultrasound: If it does not require a biopsy, this exam may be similar to a normal rectal exam performed by a doctor. But if a biopsy is required, then you will feel minimal discomfort as the needle is inserted into your anus.
Benefits of Pelvic Ultrasound
Some known benefits of Pelvic ultrasound are listed below:
- It is not painful although it may be uncomfortable temporarily.
- It is noninvasive which means that there are no injections or needles.
- It is the preferred imaging method to monitor pregnant women and their unborn babies.
- It is widely available compared to other imaging methods and provides great internal details when accessing soft tissue structures.
- It can be used to evaluate and identify various disorders in the urinary and reproductive systems in both males and females.
- It is less expensive and easy to use compared to other imaging methods.
- It can be used to confirm early pregnancy.
- It provides a more clear picture of soft tissues that did not show up clearly on the x-ray.
- It is completely safe and it uses sound waves, not radiation.
Risks/complications of Pelvic Ultrasound
Although standard ultrasound diagnostics do have a known harmful effect on the human body, but an interpretation of the ultrasound may lead to other procedures and followups.
Limitation of Pelvic Ultrasound
Though the ultrasound scan is painless and has no known harmful effect on the human body, it has a few limitations. These limitations include;
- It is not the best imaging technique or method for organs obscured by bowel or air-filled bowel because ultrasound waves are disrupted by gas or air.
- Ultrasound cannot penetrate bones but it can be used for imaging an infection surrounding a bone or fractures of the bone.
- Ultrasound is not useful for imaging air-filled lungs but can only be used to detect fluid within or around the lungs.
- Obese patients are difficult to image by ultrasound because the sound waves are weakened by the greater amount of tissues in their body making it difficult for the sound waves to return to the transducer for analysis.
Though pelvic ultrasound is painless and requires little or no preparation for men, women, and children, you can make children feel more relaxed and comfortable during the scan by bringing some of their toys along. And always ask the doctor questions you do not understand about the ultrasound exam for more clarification.