What is Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is cyclic sound pressure with a frequency greater than the upper limit of human hearing. Ultrasound is thus not separated from "normal" (audible) sound based on differences in physical properties, only the fact that humans cannot hear it. Although this limit varies from person to person, it is approximately 20 kilohertz (20,000 hertz) in healthy, young adults. The production of ultrasound is used in many different fields, typically to penetrate a medium and measure the reflection signature or supply focused energy. The reflection signature can reveal details about the inner structure of the medium, a property also used by animals such as bats for hunting. The most well known application of ultrasound is its use in sonography to produce pictures of fetuses in the human womb. There are a vast number of other applications as well.
Medical sonography (ultrasonography) is an ultrasound-based diagnostic medical imaging technique used to visualize muscles, tendons, and many internal organs, to capture their size, structure and any pathological lesions with real time tomographic images. Ultrasound has been used by radiologists and sonographers to image the human body for at least 50 years and has become one of the most widely used diagnostic tools in modern medicine. The technology is relatively inexpensive and portable, especially when compared with other techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT). Ultrasound is also used to visualize fetuses during routine and emergency prenatal care. Such diagnostic applications used during pregnancy are referred to as obstetric sonography.
Obstetric ultrasound can be used to identify many conditions that would be harmful to the mother and the baby. Many health care professionals consider the risk of leaving these conditions undiagnosed to be much greater than the very small risk, if any, associated with undergoing an ultrasound scan. Sonography is used routinely in obstetric appointments during pregnancy, but the FDA discourages its use for non-medical purposes such as fetal keepsake videos and photos, even though it is the same technology used in hospitals.
Obstetric ultrasound is primarily used to:
- Date the pregnancy (gestational age)
- Confirm fetal viability
- Determine location of fetus, intrauterine vs ectopic
- Check the location of the placenta in relation to the cervix
- Check for the number of fetuses (multiple pregnancy)
- Check for major physical abnormalities.
- Assess fetal growth (for evidence of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR))
- Check for fetal movement and heartbeat.
- Determine the sex of the baby
Ultrasound scanners have different Doppler-techniques to visualize arteries and veins. The most common is colour doppler or power doppler, but also other techniques like b-flow are used to show bloodflow in an organ. By using pulsed wave doppler or continuous wave doppler bloodflow velocities can be calculated.
Ultrasound is also increasingly being used in trauma and first aid cases, with emergency ultrasound becoming a staple of most EMT response teams. Furthermore, ultrasound is used in remote diagnosis cases where teleconsultation is required, such as scientific experiments in space or mobile sports team diagnosis.
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