Although ultrasounds are not included in most annual exams, they can be an effective tool for diagnosing certain problems early on. Pelvic ultrasounds, for example, allow us to see the uterus, ovarians, and fallopian tubes, as well as the presence of cysts and fibroids. The latter are often difficult or impossible to detect with a basic pelvic examination. Here at MOGA, we often recommend these ultrasounds to any woman experiencing pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, or particularly heavy menstruation. To learn more about what a pelvic ultrasound is and how it can benefit your reproductive health, keep reading below!
What is a pelvic ultrasound?
A pelvic ultrasound is a detailed exam that provides us with a noninvasive way to diagnose many gynecological conditions. The images produced allow the quick visualization and assessment of the organs and structures within the female pelvis, including the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
When you schedule a pelvic ultrasound with MOGA, we’ll use a special gel on the ultrasound transducer and your skin to allow for smoother movement and eliminate air between the skin and transducer for the best sound conduction. This instrument sends high-frequency ultrasound waves through the body to the organs and structures within the pelvis. These waves bounce off the organs like an echo before returning to the transducer, where they are processed and converted into images of the organs and tissues being examined.
We may also use a Doppler ultrasound, which can show the speed and direction of the blood flow in certain pelvic organs. Unlike standard ultrasounds, some of the sound waves produced during a Doppler exam will be audible.
Pelvic ultrasounds are generally performed using one or both of two different methods: transabdominal and transvaginal. With a transabdominal ultrasound, the transducer is placed on the abdomen using the conductive gel. When we perform a transvaginal ultrasound, we’ll cover a longer, thinner transducer with conductive gel and a plastic or latex sheath before inserting it into the vagina.
The type of ultrasound we choose to perform will depend on the reason you’re being seen. In some cases, only one method will be necessary. For others, we may need to use both methods to obtain the information we need for an accurate diagnosis or treatment.
What happens during a pelvic ultrasound?
Pelvic ultrasounds can be performed in a doctor’s office on an outpatient basis or as part of a hospital stay. Most will follow the same process, depending on whether it is a transabdominal or transvaginal procedure.
Before a transabdominal ultrasound, you’ll be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the scan. If necessary, we’ll give you a gown to wear. You’ll lie on your back on an exam table while we apply the conductive gel to your abdomen. We’ll then gently but firmly press the transducer against your skin and move it around the area of concern. If a Doppler probe is being used, you may hear a whooshing sound as we assess the blood flow.
Throughout the ultrasound process, images will be displayed on the computer screen. Once we’ve collected all the images and information we need, we’ll wipe the excess gel off and you’ll be able to replace your clothing and jewelry.
If you’re scheduled for a transvaginal ultrasound, we’ll provide you with a gown and have you lie on the exam table with your feet and legs supported. This is the same position we use for regular pelvic examinations. The transducer will be covered in a plastic or latex sheath then lubricated with conductive gel. The tip will be inserted into your vagina. This may be slightly uncomfortable, but we’ll do our best to be gentle as we turn and angle the wand to bring different areas into focus. Some mild pressure is normal with these movements.
As with the transabdominal ultrasound, you might hear a whooshing sound if we’re using a Doppler probe. Images will be displayed as we gather information. Once the process is complete, the transducer will be removed and you’ll be able to replace your clothing. Although there are no real risk factors with either type of pelvic ultrasound, there are certain factors or conditions that can affect the results. These include but aren’t limited to severe obesity, intestinal gas, and barium within the intestines from a recent barium procedure.
Since a full bladder helps to move the uterus up and moves the bowel away, we may ask you to hold yours until after the ultrasound for better results.
Common reasons for a pelvic ultrasound
Pelvic ultrasounds are used for the measurement and evaluation of the female pelvic organs. An ultrasound assessment of the pelvis will often include the following.
- The size, shape, and position of your uterus and ovaries
- The presence, thickness, and density of fluids or masses in the endometrium, uterine muscle tissue, fallopian tubes, and bladder
- The length and thickness of your cervix
- Any changes in your bladder shape
- The blood flow through your pelvic organs
A pelvic ultrasound can provide a great deal of information about the size, location, and structure of any pelvic masses, but it isn’t able to provide patients with a definitive diagnosis of cancer and other specific diseases. In general, we’ll use a pelvic ultrasound to diagnose and assist in the treatment of conditions like:
- abnormalities in the anatomic structure of your uterus, including endometrial issues
- fibroid tumors, masses, cysts, and other types of tumors within the pelvis
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and other types of inflammation or infection
- postmenopausal bleeding
- the monitoring of ovarian follicle size for infertility evaluation
- aspiration of follicle fluid and eggs from the ovaries for in vitro fertilization
- an ectopic pregnancy
- monitoring fetal development during pregnancy
- assessing certain fetal conditions
A pelvic ultrasound is also used to detect the presence and position of an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) and can assist with other procedures such as an endometrial biopsy.
Give your reproductive health the attention it deserves with MOGA
If you’ve been experiencing abnormal bleeding, heavy periods, or any pain in your abdominal area, a pelvic ultrasound will give us important insight into what’s going on. To find out more, get in touch with our expert team by calling our office or schedule an appointment online through our website.