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Ultrasound: Frequently Asked Questions

Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 09:43

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to ultrasound:

Q: Is an abdominal ultrasound ordered for any condition other than pregnancy?

A: There are several reasons the doctor requests an abdominal ultrasound. These include:

  • Finding the cause of stomach pain
  • Looking for stones in the gallbladder or kidney
  • Diagnosing enlargement of an abdominal organ
  • Pyloric stenosis, one cause for vomiting in babies
  • Suspicion of appendicitis

Q: If ultrasound cannot penetrate bone, is an ultrasound of the head ever done?

A: While ultrasound is usually ineffective for organs encased in bone, like the brain, cranial ultrasound is sometimes performed on infants who still have a soft spot (called the anterior fontanelle) in their skulls.Some indications for cranial ultrasound include:

  • Screening for bleeding in the bran
  • Signs of infection
  • Cranial abnormalities

Q: Is ultrasound ever ordered for a hip?

A: Hip ultrasound is ordered when the diagnosis is dislocated or underdeveloped hips, especially on babies.

Q: Why is kidney ultrasound ordered?

A: Ultrasound does not test kidney function. When kidney ultrasound is ordered, it is to take pictures of both the kidneys and the urinary bladder in order to detect the following conditions or disorders:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • The cause for blood in the urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Back or abdominal pain
  • Known or suspected kidney stones
  • A family history of kidney disease

Q: Is ultrasound ever ordered for the spine?

A: A spinal ultrasound is usually ordered to take pictures of the spinal cord in a baby three or four months old or less. A baby is usually referred for spinal ultrasound because of a dimple, hair patch, or discoloration of the skin. The study is done to look for an abnormality of the spinal cord.

Q: What are the disadvantages of ultrasound?

A: The main disadvantage of ultrasound is the inability of the sound waves to penetrate bone and gas.

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