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Ultrasound scan (sonogram)

An ultrasound scan uses high frequency wave sounds to capture an image of inside your body

ultrasound scan on patient
Ultrasound scanning is a technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of your internal organs, soft tissues, and blood vessels, allowing your consultant to see what is happening inside your body. It is usually a non-invasive procedure, meaning that the ultrasound probe stays outside your body, but some types of ultrasound involve inserting the probe into your body through your mouth, vagina, or rectum (back passage).

There are several types of ultrasound:

  • Diagnostic ultrasound - used to diagnose a range of conditions
  • Doppler ultrasound - a type of diagnostic ultrasound to assess blood flow through your veins and arteries
  • Prenatal ultrasound - to monitor your unborn baby during pregnancy
  • Ultrasound guidance - ultrasound may be used to guide a surgeon during a procedure such as a biopsy
  • Therapeutic ultrasound - may be used by physiotherapists to treat chronic pain and promote tissue healing

Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss a private ultrasound scan with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what an ultrasound scan is, why you may need to have an ultrasound scan and what to expect during the procedure.

The cost of your ultrasound depends on your individual circumstances and the type of ultrasound you have. At the time of your appointment your consultant will discuss all options for scans with you and ensure all your questions are answered.

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time period that suits you.

Ultrasound scans use a special transducer probe that emits high-frequency sound waves. These soundwaves are too high for us to hear, but they "bounce" off structures within your body, creating echoes that are converted into real-time images or videos by a computer. The images are displayed on a screen during your ultrasound scan.

You might need to have an ultrasound scan if your consultant wants to examine your internal organs and soft tissues for signs of disease, provide a diagnosis, monitor blood flow through your blood vessels or monitor your baby during pregnancy. Ultrasound may also be used therapeutically to help treat pain and promote healing.

Ultrasound is a valuable tool that can be used in a variety of situations including:

  • Diagnosing diseases such as gallbladder, thyroid, genital and prostate disease
  • Monitoring your developing baby and viewing the uterus and ovaries during pregnancy
  • Assessing a breast lump
  • Evaluating blood flow
  • Guiding a needle for a biopsy or tumour treatment
  • Guiding a surgeon during an operation
  • Assessing joint inflammation
  • Monitoring and evaluating metabolic bone disease

Your ultrasound scan will be performed by a consultant radiologist, a doctor specialising in performing a variety of scans to diagnose and monitor a range of conditions.

Your radiologist will explain the procedure to you including what to expect during your ultrasound, how long the procedure is likely to take and what happens afterwards.

Please ask your radiologist any questions you may have about your ultrasound scan before your procedure.

In most cases, there is nothing you need to do to prepare for your ultrasound scan. Wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment and leave any jewellery at home. If you are allergic to latex, let your radiographer know before having an internal ultrasound scan so that they can use a latex-free probe cover.

For some types of ultrasound, you may be given instructions on how to prepare for your scan. Instructions on how to prepare will be in your appointment letter. Follow these instructions carefully and call the hospital if you have any questions. Not being prepared for your ultrasound may mean your appointment has to be rescheduled.

You may need to prepare by:

  • Not eating or drinking for a period of time before your scan (such as before a gallbladder ultrasound)
  • Drinking lots of water to ensure you have a full bladder (such as before a pelvic ultrasound)

What happens during an ultrasound scan depends on the type of ultrasound you are having, and the part of your body being scanned.

You may be asked to change into a hospital gown before your ultrasound scan.

The procedure normally takes between 20 and 40 minutes.

There are three main types of ultrasound scan:

External ultrasound

This type of non-invasive ultrasound involves moving a probe over the skin around an area your consultant wants to examine. It can be used to monitor an unborn baby in the womb and to examine various organs including the heart, liver, kidneys, abdominal and pelvic organs, muscles, and joints.

During an external ultrasound, a lubricating gel is applied to your skin to allow the probe to move across your skin more easily. Your radiographer will then move a small handheld probe across your skin over the part of your body being examined.

An external ultrasound is not painful, though the lubricating gel may feel cold at first.

Internal ultrasound

This type of ultrasound allows your consultant to examine your internal organs such as the prostate gland, ovaries, or womb more closely.

During an internal ultrasound, you'll be asked to lie on the examination couch, either on your back or side with your knees drawn up towards your chest. Your radiographer will insert a small, lubricated probe with a sterile cover into your vagina or rectum. The images are transmitted to a monitor in the same way as an external ultrasound.

An internal ultrasound may be uncomfortable but should not be painful. Let your consultant know if you experience any pain during your internal ultrasound scan.

Endoscopic ultrasound

An endoscopic ultrasound involves a long flexible tube called an endoscope being inserted into your body (usually your mouth). The endoscope has a light and an ultrasound probe at the end that your consultant uses to examine areas such as your oesophagus, stomach, small bowel, and gallbladder.

Before your endoscopic ultrasound, you'll usually be given a sedative to make you feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure and a local anaesthetic spray to numb your throat. You will be asked to lie on your side and may have a mouth guard in place to keep your mouth open and prevent you from biting down on the endoscope during the procedure.

Recovery from most ultrasound scans is quick and you can normally return to your normal activities straight away.

How many nights will I need to stay in hospital?

An ultrasound scan is an outpatient procedure that does not require a hospital stay. If you did not receive sedation before your ultrasound scan, you can leave the department as soon as your procedure is finished. If you had an endoscopic ultrasound with sedation, you'll need to stay for a few hours until the effects of your sedation have started to wear off.

Will I be able to drive home?

If you were given sedation before your ultrasound, you should not drive yourself home from the hospital, or for 24 hours after your procedure. If you feel well enough and did not have any sedation before your ultrasound, you will be able to drive straight after your ultrasound scan.

How soon can I go back to work?

You can return to work and normal activities straight away after your ultrasound scan. If you were given sedation, such as before an endoscopic ultrasound, you should rest at home for 24 hours after your procedure.

When will I be back to normal?

Ultrasound is a non or minimally invasive procedure with little to no recovery time. After an external or internal ultrasound, no recovery time is needed, and you can return to your normal activities right away. If you received sedation before an endoscopic ultrasound, we advise you to rest at home for 24 hours to allow the effects of the sedation to fully wear off before driving, returning to work or other daily activities.

Avoid alcohol, sleeping tablets, strenuous activity, operating machinery, making important decisions, or signing legal documents for 24 hours after your endoscopic ultrasound scan.

The results of your ultrasound scan will usually be sent to the doctor who referred you within two days of your procedure.

Ultrasound scanning is a very safe procedure and there are no known risks from the sound waves used in an ultrasound scan. The procedure does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation like other scans such as X-ray or CT scans.

Endoscopic ultrasounds may cause temporary side effects such as a sore throat or bloating. Rarely, more serious complications such as internal bleeding can occur following endoscopic ultrasound.

Your consultant will explain all the possible risks and complications before your ultrasound scan to ensure you can make an informed decision.

At Circle Health Group, we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group, you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about having an ultrasound scan, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0808 189 5499.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in 2024. Next review due 2025.

Ultrasound scan NHS

Ultrasound National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

Ultrasound scan Better Health Channel

Ultrasound Imaging US Food and Drug Administration

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