What is a pelvic ultrasound?
A pelvic ultrasound is a scan that looks at the organs and structures in your pelvic area. It lets your healthcare provider look at your:
- Fallopian tubes
Your provider can also use Doppler ultrasound to look at how blood is flowing in certain pelvic organs.
Ultrasound uses a device called a transducer to send out sound waves that are too high to be heard. The transducer sends the sound waves through your skin and other body tissues to the organs and structures within. The sound waves bounce off the organs like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer picks up the reflected waves. These are changed into a picture of the organs.
The ultrasound technologist puts a clear gel on your skin and moves the transducer on the gel. The gel lets the technologist move the transducer smoothly over your skin. It also helps conduct the sound waves.
Pelvic ultrasound may be done in 2 ways:
- Transabdominal. A transducer is put on your belly using the gel.
- Transvaginal. A long, thin transducer is covered with a plastic or latex sheath and gel. The transducer is then put into the vagina.
The type of ultrasound procedure you have depends on why you need it. You may need only one type of pelvic ultrasound. Or you may need both to help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis or give you treatment.
Why might I need a pelvic ultrasound?
You may need a pelvic ultrasound so your healthcare provider can measure or look at your pelvic organs. Your provider may use the ultrasound to look at:
- Size and shape of your uterus and ovaries and where they are
- Thickness and density of tissues and organs in your pelvis
- Fluids or masses in the endometrium, muscles of the uterus (myometrium), fallopian tubes, or bladder
- Length and thickness of your cervix
- Changes in the shape of your bladder
- Blood flow through your pelvic organs
Pelvic ultrasound can give your healthcare provider lots of information about the size, place, and structure of pelvic masses. But ultrasound can't give a definite diagnosis of cancer or specific disease.
Your healthcare provider may use pelvic ultrasound to help:
- Find problems in the structure of the uterus, including endometrial conditions
- Find fibroid tumors (benign growths), masses, cysts, and other types of tumors within the pelvis
- Find an IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device)
- Diagnose pelvic inflammatory disease or other types of inflammation or infection
- Find the cause of bleeding after menopause
- Watch your ovaries when you are treated for infertility
- Collect fluid and eggs from egg sacs (follicles) in the ovaries for in vitro fertilization
- Diagnose pregnancy that happens outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy)
- Watch how your fetus is growing during pregnancy
- Look at certain fetal conditions
Your healthcare provider may also use ultrasound to help with other procedures such as endometrial biopsy. Transvaginal ultrasound may be used with a procedure called sonohysterography. For this, your uterus is filled with fluid so that your provider can get a better image.
Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a pelvic ultrasound.
What are the risks of a pelvic ultrasound?
Ultrasound doesn't use radiation. You usually won't feel any discomfort when the transducer is moved across your skin during a transabdominal ultrasound. You may have a little discomfort when then transvaginal transducer is put into your vagina.
The transvaginal ultrasound transducer is covered in a plastic or latex sheath. This may cause a reaction if you have a latex allergy.
During a transabdominal ultrasound, you may have discomfort from a full bladder or from lying on the exam table.
If you need to have a transabdominal ultrasound right away, your provider may put a thin tube (urinary catheter) into your bladder to fill it.
You may have other risks depending on your health condition. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.
Some things can affect your test results. These include:
- Severe obesity
- Barium within your bowel from a recent barium test
- Intestinal gas
- Your bladder isn’t full enough for the test (transabdominal ultrasound). A full bladder helps move the uterus up and moves the bowel away to get a better image.
How do I get ready for a pelvic ultrasound?
- Your healthcare provider will explain the scan to you. Ask any questions you have about the scan.
- Tell your provider if you are sensitive to or are allergic to latex.
- You usually can eat and drink as normal before the scan. You will not get medicine to help you relax or go to sleep, unless the ultrasound is part of another procedure that needs anesthesia.
- Wear clothing that you don’t mind getting gel on. The gel put on your skin during the scan does not stain clothing, but some of it may stay on your skin after the scan.
- For a transabdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to drink several glasses of water or other liquid 1 to 2 hours before the scan. Don't empty your bladder until the scan is over.
- For a transvaginal ultrasound, you should empty your bladder right before the scan.
- Follow any other directions your provider gives you on how to get ready.
What happens during a pelvic ultrasound?
You may have a pelvic ultrasound done in your healthcare provider’s office. Or you may have it as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The scan process may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.
- You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may get in the way of the scan.
- You will be given a gown to wear if you need to remove clothing.
- You will lie on your back on an exam table.
- The technologist will put gel on your belly (abdomen).
- The technologist will press the transducer against your skin and move it over the area being studied.
- If the technologist is looking at blood flow, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler mode is used.
- You will see images of your pelvic area on the computer screen. Images will be recorded for your healthcare records.
- When the technologist finishes the scan, he or she will wipe off the gel.
- You may empty your bladder when the scan is done.
- You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan.
- You will be given a gown to wear if you need to remove clothing.
- You will lie on an exam table. Your feet and legs will be supported as for a pelvic exam.
- The technologist will cover the transvaginal transducer with a plastic or latex sheath and put gel on it. He or she will put the tip of the transducer into your vagina. This may be slightly uncomfortable.
- The technologist will gently turn and angle the transducer to bring the areas for study into focus. You may feel mild pressure as the transducer is moved.
- If the technologist is looking at your blood flow, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler probe is used.
- You will see images of your pelvic area on the computer screen. Images will be recorded for your health care records.
- When technologist finishes the scan, he or she will remove the transducer.
What happens after a pelvic ultrasound?
You don't have to do anything special after a pelvic ultrasound. You may go back to your normal diet and activity unless your healthcare provider tells you not to.
Your healthcare provider may give you additional instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
- The name of the test or procedure
- The reason you are having the test or procedure
- What results to expect and what they mean
- The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
- What the possible side effects or complications are
- When and where you are to have the test or procedure
- Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
- What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
- Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
- When and how will you get the results
- Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
- How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure