If your doctor has ordered a pelvic ultrasound, she is interested in evaluating your uterus, ovaries, and bladder for abnormalities. Unlike other diagnostic tools, ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to produce images of the human body and is particularly useful in evaluating soft tissues, organs, and fluids. A pelvic ultrasound usually consists of two parts: the transabdominal exam and the transvaginal exam. Knowing the purpose of the exam and understanding the preparation and procedure for the first portion will help you to navigate the procedure smoothly.
The transabdominal ultrasound exam provides the “big picture” of the pelvic organs, such as their size, shape, location, and orientation while displaying the presence of any abnormalities. As the name implies, the sound waves are beamed through the patient’s lower abdomen in an effort to see the uterus, ovaries, and surrounding areas in one big picture. A full bladder allows the sound waves to pass through the abdominal cavity without losing any significant strength, resulting in a clearer picture.
Since a full bladder enhances the transabdominal pelvic image, you will need to make sure your bladder is full for this exam. The usual bladder prep for this procedure is to drink three 8-oz glasses of water 45 minutes to 1 hour before the start of the exam. For well-hydrated people, this amount is sufficient to produce a full bladder. If you are a regular caffeine drinker, however, this amount of water might not be enough to fill your bladder. Caffeine is a diuretic; it causes cells to loose water. If you drink caffeine daily without a significant intake of water, you could be so chronically dehydrated that 24 oz of water will go straight to your tissues before making its way to your bladder. Consequently, your bladder might not be full enough when it comes time for the ultrasound exam, resulting in additional water and additional time for your bladder to fill. To avoid this situation, you can hydrate your body the day before the exam by drinking eight 8-oz glasses of water and emptying your bladder as needed. This technique flushes your system with much needed water so that on exam day, your tissues are freshly hydrated and the 24 oz of water you drink will go straight to your bladder within the allotted time.
At the beginning of the exam, the technologist will apply gel to your lower abdomen as a conduit. She will then move a transducer through the gel to send sound waves into your body. These sound waves travel through your pelvic cavity, strike your uterus and ovaries, and return to the transducer to generate an image on the screen. The only sensation you will be aware of is the pressure of a full bladder. The technologist will take pictures and measurements of your pelvic organs and note any irregularities. The entire procedure usually takes no more than twenty minutes, after which you will be able to go to the bathroom. The technologist will then proceed with the second half of the pelvic exam, the transvaginal part if your doctor has included one in the order.
A transabdominal ultrasound is a quick, painless, radiation-free diagnostic tool your doctor can use to gain additional information about your pelvic organs. If you can maintain a full bladder for several minutes, you should have no trouble with this exam.
Contact either of our 2 Radiology & Imaging locations for any questions.
Alameda Imaging Center
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South Imaging Center
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