A pelvic ultrasound is a safe and painless test that uses sound waves to make images of the pelvis.
During the examination, an ultrasound machine sends sound waves into the pelvic area and images are recorded on a computer. The black-and-white images show the internal structures of the pelvis, such as the bladder, and in girls, the ovaries, uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes.
Doctors order a pelvic ultrasound when they're concerned about a problem in the pelvis.
A pelvic ultrasound can be used to determine the shape, size, and position of organs in the pelvis, and can detect tumors, cysts, or extra fluid in the pelvis, and help find the cause of symptoms such as pelvic pain, some urinary problems, or abnormal menstrual bleeding in girls.
Pelvic ultrasounds are used to monitor the growth and development of a baby during pregnancy and can help in diagnosing some problems with pregnancy.
Usually, you don't have to do anything special to prepare for a pelvic ultrasound, although the doctor may ask that your child drink lots of fluids before the exam so that he or she arrives with a full bladder.
If the ultrasound is done in an emergency situation, your child may be given fluids through an intravenous catheter (IV) or through a urinary catheter to help fill the bladder.
You should tell the technician about any medications your child is taking before the test begins.
The pelvic ultrasound will be done in the radiology department of a hospital or in a radiology center. Parents are usually able to accompany their child to provide reassurance.
Your child will be asked to change into a cloth gown and lie on a table. The room is usually dark so the images can be seen clearly on the computer screen. A technician (sonographer) trained in ultrasound imaging will spread a clear, warm gel on the lower abdomen over the pelvic area, which helps with the transmission of the sound waves.
The technician will then move a small wand (transducer) over the gel. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves and a computer measures how they bounce back from the body. The computer changes those sound waves into images to be analyzed.
Sometimes the doctor will come in at the end of the test to meet your child and take a few more pictures. The procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.
The pelvic ultrasound is painless. Your child may feel a slight pressure on the lower belly as the transducer is moved. Ask your child to lie still during the procedure so the sound waves can produce the proper images. The technician may ask your child to lie in different positions or hold his or her breath briefly.
Babies might cry in the ultrasound room, especially if they're restrained, but this won't interfere with the procedure.
A radiologist (a doctor who's specially trained in reading and interpreting X-ray, ultrasound, and other imaging studies) will interpret the ultrasound results and then give the information to the doctor, who will review them with you. If the test results appear abnormal, the doctor may order further tests.
In an emergency, the results of an ultrasound can be available quickly. Otherwise, they're usually ready in 1-2 days. In most cases, results can't be given directly to the patient or family at the time of the test.
No risks are associated with a pelvic ultrasound. Unlike X-rays, radiation isn't involved with this test.
Some younger kids may be afraid of the machinery used for the ultrasound. Explaining in simple terms how the pelvic ultrasound will be conducted and why it's being done can help ease any fear. You can tell your child that the equipment takes pictures of his or her belly. Encourage your child to ask the technician questions and to try to relax during the procedure, as tense muscles can make it more difficult to get accurate results.
If you have questions about the pelvic ultrasound, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician before the exam.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013
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