Ultrasound technicians are involved in many different areas of medicine. While the most commonly thought of use for sonography is that of obstetrics and pregnancy, ultrasound especially 3D and 4D ultrasound has many different uses.
If you’re new to this website we explain what ultrasound is and some background to the area in our article diagnostic medical sonography, this article will assume a basic knowledge of what ultrasound is and instead focus on providing an overview of these uses and procedures.
What is ultrasound used for?
One of the rarely thought of but commonly used uses is during anesthesia. At this time ultrasound is routinely used in order to guide the injecting needle when it is necessary to place a local anesthetic in close proximity to nerves.
The use of ultrasonography during cardiology is called echocardiography. This is regularly used to view the heart in order to diagnose abnormalities. Echocardiography can determine many heart issues from investigating if the heart is formed and functioning properly, checking for dilation in any part of the heart and can even assess blood velocity when using Doppler ultrasound.
Ultrasound is routinely used to aid diagnoses at the first point of care. In situations such as these where speed, accuracy and efficiency save lives, ultrasound is used in many situations including the Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST) exam. As the name implies this is a rapid examination that can be done at a bedside. The aim to screen for internal bleeding such as around the heart (pericardial tamponade) or other abdominal organs (hemoperitoneum) which can result after a patient has suffered trauma.
There is also an extended FAST or eFAST exam which utilizes sonography in the examination of both lungs. This bedside detection procedure has many advantages, most significant of which is that while other scanning procedures can often detect these issues, the swift and accurate ultrasound scans enable the quick response that is needed in these situations, especially when waiting to perform the lengthier scans can enable other serious complications to develop when not caught immediately.
Ultrasonography is also regularly used in the emergency department to hasten the treatment of patients who suffer from upper right quadrant abdominal pain which may result from cholecystitis or gallstones.
During this abdominal ultrasonography the organs in the abdomen are imaged e.g. Spleen, aorta, inferior vena cava, pancreas, gall bladder, bile ducts and kidneys. The appendix can sometimes be added to this list, but only when inflamed by such issues as appendicitis. Ultrasound technicians have a complicated job in this area; sound waves are often attenuated by fat or even blocked completely by gas contained within the bowel. Due to this the diagnostic capabilities for gastroenterology have a limited impact.
The skull generally provides a virtually impenetrable barrier for ultrasound, however with an infant the soft area of the skull (Fontanelle) does allow for ultrasonic waves to penetrate for a short while, until these close at around 1 year old. This allows for the analysis of intracerebral structural abnormalities, bleeds, ventriculomegaly or hydrocephalus and anoxic insults.
This has many uses, one of which is to discover the amount of fluid a patient retains in their bladder. Pelvic sonograms also cover the uterus and ovaries, or prostate and testicles for males. Ultrasound scans in this area can either be done externally or internally, transvaginally for females or transrectally for males. Scans in this area are used for different purposes but can be used to distinguish between benign testicular masses and testicular cancer.
This is the use of sonography to look at tendons, muscles, ligaments, bone surfaces, nerves, and soft tissue masses.
This is just a selection of some of the areas that an ultrasound technician gets involved in. With technological innovations such as 3D and 4D ultrasound alongside improvements in the brightness and clarity of the images themselves, new uses and procedures are still being thought of. This is why ultrasound technicians need to undergo regular training in order to make sure they are up to date with the latest advancements and techniques.
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