What to Expect During a Pelvic Ultrasound

For most ultrasound exams, the patient is positioned lying face-up on an examination table that can be tilted or moved.

A clear water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin. The sonographer (ultrasound technologist) or radiologist then presses the transducer firmly against the skin and sweeps it over the area of interest.

Transvaginal ultrasound is performed very much like a gynecologic exam and involves the insertion of the transducer into the vagina after the patient empties her bladder. The tip of the transducer is smaller than the standard speculum used when performing a Pap test. A protective cover is placed over the transducer, lubricated with a small amount of gel, and then inserted into the vagina. Only two to three inches of the transducer end are inserted into the vagina. The images are obtained from different orientations to get the best views of the uterus and ovaries. Transvaginal ultrasound is usually performed with the patient lying on her back, possibly with her feet in stirrups similar to a gynecologic exam. 

Time Consideration

These ultrasound examinations are usually completed within 30 minutes.

Other Factors

Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy.

Ultrasound exams in which the transducer is inserted into an opening of the body may produce minimal discomfort.

A vaginal sonogram is usually more comfortable than a manual gynecologic examination.

If a Doppler ultrasound study is performed, you may actually hear pulse-like sounds that change in pitch as the blood flow is monitored and measured.

After an ultrasound, you should be able to resume your normal activities within a few hours.

Limitations of Pelvic Ultrasound

Ultrasound waves are disrupted by air or gas; therefore ultrasound is not an ideal imaging technique for the bowel or organs obscured by the bowel. In most cases, barium exams, CT scanning, and MRI are the methods of choice in this setting.

Large patients are more difficult to image because tissue attenuates (weakens) the sound waves as they pass deeper into the body.