Harvard Health Publications

Pelvic Ultrasound and Transvaginal Ultrasound

What is the test?

Ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to generate snapshots or moving pictures of structures inside the body. A radiologist or ultrasound technician applies lubricant to your skin to reduce friction. He or she then places an ultrasound transducer, which looks like a microphone, on your skin and moves it back and forth to get the right view. The transducer sends sound waves into your body and picks up the echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off internal organs and tissue. A computer transforms these echoes into an image that is displayed on a screen.

Pelvic organ ultrasound is used to monitor pregnancy, find cysts on your ovaries, examine the lining of your uterus, look for causes of infertility, and find cancers or benign tumors in the pelvic region. Depending on the view needed, the ultrasound sensor is placed either on your abdomen (pelvic ultrasound) or in your vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).

How do I prepare for the test?

Your doctor might ask you to drink a few glasses of water before the test because a full bladder lifts your intestines out of the way and provides a clearer view of your pelvic organs. If you're having a transvaginal ultrasound and have a tampon in place, you'll need to remove it before the test.

What happens when the test is performed?

You lie on your back on a table for the test. For a pelvic ultrasound, after squirting some clear jelly onto your lower abdomen to help the ultrasound sensor slide around easily, a doctor or technician places the sensor against your skin. For a transvaginal ultrasound, the doctor or technician covers a sensor with a condom and some jelly before inserting it into your vagina. When the sensor is in place, a picture will appear on a video screen. The technician or doctor moves the sensor on your abdomen or in your vagina to see the uterus and ovaries from many different views.

What risks are there from the test?

None.

Must I do anything special after the test is over?

No.

How long is it before the result of the test is known?

If a doctor does the test, you might be able to get preliminary results immediately; this will not be possible if a technician performs the test. Whether a doctor or technician performs the test, he or she records it on a videotape so that it can be formally reviewed by a radiologist. Your doctor should receive the radiologist's report in a day or two.


Disclaimer: This content should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of a call or visit to a health professional. Use of this content is subject to specific Terms of Use & Medical Disclaimers.

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