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Ultrasound Examinations

What is ultrasound imaging (sonography)?

Diagnostic ultrasounds (also called sonograms) are amazing non-invasive diagnostic tools. But what is an ultrasound, exactly?

An ultrasound is a machine that uses completely safe, high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. The sound waves bounce off your internal organs, soft tissue, and even your baby to create images – like sonar.

Unlike X-rays, sound waves emitted by the ultrasound probe (AKA transducer) contain no radiation.

Ultrasound scans are a painless procedure that’s used to look at many different parts of your body, from your heart to your baby in utero. 

There are different types of ultrasound scans which we will discuss next. These are meant to see or diagnose certain parts of a patient or baby’s anatomy at different times of the pregnancy.

Types of Ultrasound Examinations

What types of ultrasounds are there?

You’re probably familiar with a traditional obstetric ultrasound if you’ve ever watched a movie or TV show with a pregnant character. But, there are a couple different ultrasound techniques depending on what part of the body your doctor needs to check:

Abdominal ultrasound

A very common imaging test, a sonographer will apply the ultrasound wand to your abdomen to check the liver, pancreas, kidneys, gall bladder, abdominal aorta, or spleen. This type of ultrasound is not part of normal pregnancy care, but we may call for scans if the patient has another medical condition that could complicate the pregnancy.

Pelvic ultrasound

Pelvic ultrasounds are very common during pregnancy to evaluate the health and development of the fetus, as well as the condition of the cervix, uterus, and placenta. There are three diagnostic ultrasound techniques depending on what exactly we’re checking for.

Transabdominal ultrasound

The kind you see on TV, the gel and ultrasound wand are applied to the lower abdomen to create an image of your growing baby.

Transvaginal ultrasound

A bit more invasive than a traditional ultrasound, the wand is inserted into the patient’s vagina to better evaluate the ovaries, uterus, and cervix. Often used to detect and analyze tumors and ovarian cysts as well as to confirm pregnancy.

Transrectal ultrasound

This type of ultrasound is most often used to evaluate the prostate gland. However, if a transvaginal ultrasound is contraindicated, the ultrasound wand can instead be inserted into the rectum to obtain similar quality images.

Chest ultrasound

A radiologist or sonographer applies the gel and transducer to the chest to evaluate the heart, lungs, esophagus, trachea, and lymph nodes.

What is an advanced ultrasound exam?

An advanced ultrasound examination is a specialized type of ultrasound that uses more powerful equipment and allows us to see more detail in the images. Your doctor may recommend this type of ultrasound if they need to get a closer look at a particular area or if you have a complex medical condition.

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What is a placenta evaluation?

The placenta is an amazing organ that develops with the fetus during pregnancy. The placenta delivers oxygen and nutrients to the baby and removes waste products. But the placenta can also provide important information about your baby’s health and, sometimes, can give information we need to save your baby’s life. 

A placenta evaluation is a test done to check the placenta’s health. It can be performed at any time during pregnancy, but usually between weeks 18 and 20. We use this test to assess the health of the placenta and make sure that the placenta is functioning well and not causing problems for the baby.

The placenta ultrasound evaluation includes a check for:

  • The amount of amniotic fluid in the uterus
  • Blood flow to and from the uterus
  • The position of the placenta in relation to other organs in your abdomen
  • Any abnormalities found during a vaginal exam

What is a Doppler ultrasound scan?

A Doppler ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that uses sound waves to create an image of the blood flow in the body. Doppler ultrasounds are often used to detect blockages or plaque buildup in the blood vessels and diagnose cardiovascular diseases.

The ultrasound sound waves are sent through the body and then reflected back. Then the ultrasound machine detects these echoes and converts them into images on a screen, which doctors can use to identify problems with blood flow, such as clots or narrowing of arteries.

Doppler ultrasound is also used for prenatal diagnosis, as it can reveal information about pregnancy and fetal development.

What is early fetal echocardiography?

An echocardiogram is done to see if there are any problems with the baby’s heart. The scan uses an ultrasound (echo) to evaluate the heart (cardio) and provide an image (gram). The test can be done as early as 10 weeks but is usually done between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The test detects structural anomalies and checks for any possible heart defects. With the invention of more advanced ultrasounds, we can now generate 3D images of the baby’s heart to check for anomalies. In addition, doctors can now access 4D ultrasounds, which create moving 3D images, allowing you to see the baby’s heart beating in real time.

What is advanced fetal neurosonography?

Advanced fetal neurosonography is a special type of ultrasound that provides detailed images of the fetus’s brain. This ultrasound test is usually performed in the second or third trimester.

Besides producing pictures of the brain, it is also used to see the spinal cord and nerve roots in the neck. It is often accompanied by a 3D ultrasound to get the full picture of the baby’s developing nervous system. Advanced fetal neurosonography is used to diagnose problems with the central nervous system and monitor the brain’s development.

This procedure aims to identify abnormalities in the brain that may be causing seizures or other neurological symptoms. It can also show signs of an abnormality on one side or another, which could indicate a problem with blood flow or oxygen supply to certain areas of the brain.

What is a cervical length assessment?

A cervical length assessment (as the name implies) is a way to measure the length of the cervix. It is typically used to determine if a pregnant woman has an increased risk for preterm labor and delivery.

The cervix can be measured via transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound. It can change in length during pregnancy, so we may recommend you have an assessment at each prenatal visit if your scan shows a cervical length of less than 25 millimeters. The cervical length assessment may also be done after childbirth, before leaving the hospital, or after any vaginal bleeding or discharge occurs.

The measurement is then plotted on a graph, with time on one axis and cervical length on another. This way, we can watch for trends to make sure your cervix is progressing normally.

The cervix is typically around 2-3 cm long when someone is not pregnant, and it gradually shortens as pregnancy progresses. If a person’s cervix becomes less than 25mm long, they may be at risk for preterm labor and delivery.

What is a nuchal translucency (NT scan)?

Done in the first trimester between 11 and 13 weeks gestation, nuchal translucency scans screen for certain birth defects, such as Down syndrome. During an NT scan, the technician will use an ultrasound to measure the thickness of the fluid at the back of your baby’s neck. 

The nuchal translucency test is done along with a blood test. If the test indicates your baby may have a health condition, you can then decide with your doctor whether to have a diagnostic test to find out for certain.

Learn more about a Nuchal Translucency Scan (NT Scan) (blog to be written)

What is a nasal bone evaluation?

This evaluation typically involves taking a picture of the nasal bones using an ultrasound or other imaging technology. Evaluation of the nasal bones can help assess the baby’s risk for Down syndrome.

More about Dr. Rad

Dr. Rad and his team provide world-class care for high-risk pregnancies and infertility. They understand your needs and are there to help you through every step of the process. If you’re looking for compassionate, expert care, look no further than Los Angeles Fetal and Maternal Care.

Dr. Rad has undergone rigorous training with high honors at prestigious, renowned institutions such as the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, USC, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and UCSF Medical Center, as well as centers internationally in London, Austria, Israel, and Africa.

Call us at (844) 473-6100 or schedule your consultation online. We are currently accepting new patients.

We are conveniently located for patients throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area at locations in or near Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Culver City, Hollywood, Venice, Marina del Rey, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Newport Beach, Irvine, and Downtown Los Angeles. We also offer in-home prenatal care and a fly-in program for out-of-town and international patients. Dr. Rad even travels to patients who need him throughout the U.S. and around the world.

If you can’t make it to Dr. Rad, he also offers virtual consultations worldwide.

Call (844) 473-6100 or click here to schedule online

Why do you need a full bladder for pregnancy ultrasound?

A full bladder is often required because it helps provide a clearer image of the uterus and surrounding structures. The full bladder serves as a natural acoustic window, allowing the ultrasound waves to travel through the fluid in the bladder and reach the uterus more effectively. This enhanced visualization can improve the accuracy of the ultrasound examination, particularly in early pregnancy when the uterus is still small and located deep within the pelvis. Additionally, a full bladder helps lift the uterus out of the pelvis and into a better position for imaging, making it easier to assess the pregnancy and detect any potential abnormalities.

When do you get ultrasounds in pregnancy?

Common times for ultrasounds during pregnancy include:

  • First Trimester: An early ultrasound, often performed around 6-12 weeks, is used to confirm the pregnancy, gestational age, and assess viability.
  • Second Trimester: The anatomy ultrasound is typically performed between 18 and 22. This comprehensive ultrasound examines fetal anatomy, assesses fetal growth, and checks for any structural abnormalities or genetic conditions.
  • Third Trimester (28-40 weeks): In some cases, additional ultrasounds may be recommended during the third trimester. These ultrasounds may be indicated if there are concerns or if the pregnancy is considered high-risk.

How early can you see pregnancy in ultrasound?

At around 5-6 weeks gestation, an early ultrasound may be able to detect a gestational sac within the uterus, which is the first sign of an intrauterine pregnancy.

Is ultrasound safe in pregnancy

Yes, ultrasound is considered safe during pregnancy. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the developing fetus and the mother’s

reproductive organs without the use of ionizing radiation, making it a non-invasive and generally low-risk imaging modality.

Can ultrasounds be wrong in early pregnancy?

While ultrasound is a highly accurate tool for assessing pregnancy, there is a small margin of error in early pregnancy, especially before 6-7 weeks gestation.

What types of ultrasounds are there?

There are several types of ultrasounds used in obstetrics and gynecology, each serving different purposes and providing unique information about the reproductive system. Some common types of ultrasounds used during pregnancy include:

  • Transabdominal Ultrasound
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound
  • Doppler Ultrasound
  • 3D/4D Ultrasound
  • Fetal Echocardiography