Ultrasound exams -- also called sonograms -- use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures inside your body including blood vessels, organs, and other soft tissues. Ultrasounds do not use radiation and are a safe, effective way to help your doctor diagnose a disease or other condition.

Our Ultrasound Locations

What Does an Ultrasound Show?

Ultrasounds can be used to assess a variety of health problems. For example, your doctor may order an ultrasound to:

  • Look for gallstones in your gallbladder
  • Rule out a blood clot in your leg
  • Evaluate blood flow to a transplanted organ
  • Check your thyroid gland

Most ultrasound exams are performed using a device outside your body, but a few involve placing a device inside your body. In a transvaginal ultrasound, for example, a special wand-like device is inserted into the vagina to examine the uterus and ovaries.

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Preparing for Your Ultrasound

You can wear loose, comfortable clothing, or you may be asked to change into a gown. In most cases, there are no special preparations required for an ultrasound, but there are some exceptions.

  • Your doctor may ask that you not eat or drink before the exam -- for example, if you are having an ultrasound of your gallbladder.
  • Some ultrasounds -- for instance, a pelvic ultrasound -- may require a full bladder. 

When you schedule your appointment, you will receive specific instructions depending on the type of ultrasound you are getting. This information can also be found in your My Duke Health (previously Duke MyChart) account.

During the Scan

You will lie on an exam table, and the room lights will be dimmed. Your sonographer will apply a warm, water-based gel to your skin over the area being examined. A handheld device attached to the ultrasound unit -- a transducer -- is gently moved over the area being studied to capture images. Most ultrasound exams take from 30 minutes to an hour.

Ultrasound Safety and Comfort

Ultrasound exams do not use radiation, and there are no known risks. The exam is usually painless. You may feel pressure as the transducer moves over your body, especially if you're required to have a full bladder or if the area being examined is sore or tender. If you feel discomfort, let your sonographer know so they can make any necessary adjustments.

Experts in Ultrasound Technology

Duke sonographers are certified in one or more ultrasound specialty areas -- abdominal, ob-gyn, or vascular -- through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Your images are interpreted by accredited radiologists who specialize in body imaging. Although these credentials are not required, they demonstrate our commitment to providing you with the best experience possible.

Getting Your Results

Once your ultrasound is complete, your images are interpreted by a radiologist, a doctor trained in medical image interpretation. Your report and images will be available through My Duke Health for you to discuss with your doctor. 

Since you will be able to access your results as soon as they are available, you may see them in your chart before your doctor has had a chance to look at them and explain them to you. If you prefer not to see your results before your doctor, let them know. They can request a delay in sending your information to your chart until you have the chance to talk with them.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 08/04/2021 by