Pelvic Ultrasound for Women: About This Test

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Pelvic ultrasound

What is it?

A pelvic ultrasound test uses sound waves to make a picture of the inside of the lower belly (pelvis). It allows your doctor to see your bladder, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The sound waves create a picture on a video monitor.

The test can be done in two ways:

  • Transabdominal. A small hand-held device (transducer) is passed back and forth over your lower belly.
  • Transvaginal. A thin, lubricated transducer is placed in your vagina.

Why is this test done?

A pelvic ultrasound test is done to:

  • Find the cause of urinary problems.
  • Find out what's causing pelvic pain.
  • Look for causes of vaginal bleeding and menstrual problems.
  • Check for growths or masses like ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.
  • See if a fertilized egg is growing outside the uterus. This is called a tubal pregnancy.
  • Confirm the stage of a pregnancy and check the baby's heartbeat.
  • Look for the correct placement of an intrauterine device (IUD).

How can you prepare for the test?

  • If you are having a transabdominal ultrasound, your doctor will ask you to drink 4 to 6 glasses of juice or water about an hour before the test. This will fill your bladder. If you can't fill your bladder, it can be filled with water through a thin, flexible tube (catheter).
  • If you are having both transabdominal and transvaginal ultrasounds done, you'll start with a full bladder. You will be asked to empty it before the transvaginal ultrasound.

What happens before the test?

  • You will need to remove any jewellery that might be in the way of the ultrasound.
  • You will need to take off most of your clothes below the waist. You'll be given a gown to wear during the test.

What happens during the test?

For a transabdominal ultrasound:

  • You lie down on your back on an examination table.
  • A warm gel will be spread on your lower belly. This improves the transmission of the sound waves. The hand-held transducer is pressed against your belly and gently moved back and forth. A picture of the organs can be seen on a video monitor.

For a transvaginal ultrasound:

  • You lie down on your back on an examination table with your hips slightly raised.
  • The tip of a thin, lubricated transducer probe is gently inserted into your vagina. The transducer may be moved around to get a complete view. The images from the test are shown on a video monitor.

What else should you know about the test?

  • With a transabdominal ultrasound, you will feel light pressure from the transducer as it passes over your belly. If you have an injury or pelvic pain, the pressure may be painful.
  • With a transvaginal ultrasound, you may feel some discomfort from the transducer probe as it is put into your vagina.
  • You will not hear or feel the sound waves.

How long does the test take?

  • The transabdominal ultrasound test will take about 30 minutes.
  • The transvaginal ultrasound test will take 15 to 30 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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