What Is a Pelvic Ultrasound?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 16, 2023
4 min read

A pelvic ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to make pictures of the organs inside your pelvis. Your doctor might order this test to diagnose a condition, or to check the health of your baby while still in the womb.

In women, a pelvic ultrasound is used to view the:

In men, it's used to view the:

  • Bladder
  • Prostate gland
  • Seminal vesicles (glands that add fluid to semen)

This test is called by a few other names, including:

  • Gynecologic ultrasound
  • Pelvic scan
  • Pelvic sonography
  • Transabdominal ultrasound
  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Endovaginal ultrasound

In women, doctors can use a pelvic ultrasound to:

  • Find problems with the structure of your uterus or ovaries
  • Look for cancer in your ovaries, uterus, or bladder
  • Find an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Look for growths like noncancerous tumors, fibroids, or cysts
  • Discover the cause of abnormal bleeding or pain
  • Evaluate or treat fertility problems
  • Monitor your baby's growth during pregnancy
  • Check for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID -- an infection of your uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes)
  • Diagnose an ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg that grows outside of the uterus)
  • Find a tissue sample to remove from your uterus during an endometrial biopsy

In men, a pelvic ultrasound can be used to:

  • Check for problems with the bladder, prostate gland, and seminal vesicles
  • Find bladder tumors or stones

If you are having a transabdominal ultrasound, your bladder will need to be full. You'll drink about 32 ounces -- or four 8-ounce glasses -- of water or another clear fluid at least 1 hour before the test. A full bladder makes your organs show up more clearly on the picture. You can use the bathroom after the procedure.

A transvaginal ultrasound is done with an empty bladder. You'll use the bathroom before the test.

Wear loose, comfortable clothes to the exam. You might need to wear a gown during the procedure.

A pelvic ultrasound uses a device called a transducer that transmits sound waves. These sound waves bounce off your organs and tissues, and then echo back to the transducer. A computer converts the sound waves into a picture of your organs, which appear on a video screen.

Your doctor can do this test in one of three ways:

  • Transabdominal ultrasound is done through your abdomen. You lie on your back on an exam table. The technician puts a little bit of gel on the transducer. The gel helps the transducer move more smoothly and prevents air from getting between the device and your skin. The technician gently runs the transducer back and forth over the skin of your belly.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound is done through the vagina. You lie on your back on an exam table. You might have your feet up in stirrups. The transducer is covered in gel and a plastic or latex covering. Then it's inserted into your vagina, much like a tampon.
  • Transrectal ultrasound in men is done through the rectum. You lie on your side, facing away from the technician. Your doctor places a cover over the transducer. Then it goes inside your rectum.

A Doppler ultrasound is another type of ultrasound. It measures the speed and direction of blood as it flows through arteries and veins in your abdomen. Your doctor can use this test to look for narrowing or blockages in your blood vessels. You might hear a "whooshing" sound as a Doppler ultrasound is done.

The test itself doesn’t have risks. Unlike X-rays, an ultrasound doesn't use radiation.

A transabdominal ultrasound shouldn't hurt. You might feel some discomfort during a transvaginal or transrectal ultrasound when the transducer is inserted.

A radiologist will analyze the ultrasound images and send a report to your doctor. This report will show any problems with your pelvic organs, blood vessels, or unborn baby.

Your doctor will explain the test results to you. Make sure you understand what your results mean, and how they will affect your treatment.

Your doctor might recommend other tests to check the health of your pelvic organs, including these:

  • Hysteroscopy inserts a thin, lighted device through the vagina and into the uterus to look for problems in the uterus.
  • Laparoscopy uses a thin, lighted tube that goes through your abdominal wall to view organs in your pelvis.

Your doctor will let you know if you need these or other tests.