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Women's Health

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Pelvic Ultrasound

A pelvic ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of the organs and structures in the lower belly (pelvis).

A pelvic ultrasound looks at the bladder and:

Organs and structures that are solid and uniform (such as the uterus, ovaries, or prostate gland) or that are fluid-filled (such as the bladder) show up clearly on a pelvic ultrasound camera.gif. Bones or air-filled organs, such as the intestines, do not show up well on an ultrasound and may keep other organs from being seen clearly.

Pelvic ultrasound can be done three ways: transabdominal, transrectal, and transvaginal.

  • Transabdominal ultrasound. A small handheld device called a transducer is passed back and forth over the lower belly. A transabdominal ultrasound is commonly done in women to look for large uterine fibroids or other problems.
  • Transrectal ultrasound. The transducer is shaped to fit into the rectum. A transrectal ultrasound is the most common test to look at the male pelvic organs, such as the prostate and seminal vesicles. Sometimes, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken with small tools inserted through the rectum during a transrectal ultrasound.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound. The transducer is shaped to fit into a woman's vagina camera.gif. A woman may have both transabdominal and transvaginal ultrasounds to look at the whole pelvic area. A transvaginal ultrasound is done to look for problems with fertility. In rare cases, a hysterosonogram is done to look at the inside of the uterus by filling the uterus with fluid during a transvaginal ultrasound. Sometimes, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken with small tools inserted through the vagina during a transvaginal ultrasound.

In all three types of pelvic ultrasound, the transducer sends the reflected sound waves to a computer, which makes them into a picture that is shown on a video screen. Ultrasound pictures or videos may be saved as a permanent record.

Why It Is Done

For men and women, pelvic ultrasound may be done to:

  • Find the cause of blood in the urine (hematuria). An ultrasound of the kidneys may also be done.
  • Find the cause of urinary problems.
  • Look at the size of the bladder before and after urination. This can determine whether the bladder is emptying completely during urination.
  • Check for growths in the pelvis.
  • Guide the placement of a needle during a biopsy or when draining the fluid from a cyst or abscess.
  • Check for colorectal cancer and how it is responding to treatment.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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