Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides the highest level of care to our patients using modern ultrasound technology. Exams are performed by registered sonographers and interpreted by radiologists with specialty expertise.
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About This Procedure

Ultrasound exam

Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides ultrasound imaging on the Mass General main campus and at several convenient community locations. All of our ultrasound facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology. No matter which facility you come to, our staff places priority on making your journey through the imaging process comfortable, safe, and successful. All images are read by a radiologist with specialty expertise in the area of the body being studied. Our team has extensive experience in diagnostic ultrasound, performing more than 50,000 ultrasound examinations per year.

Ultrasound overview

  • Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal body structures.
  • Ultrasound is non-invasive and does not use radiation.
  • An ultrasound exam may be ordered to look at internal organs like the liver, reproductive organs, or blood vessels, for example.
  • State-of-the-art equipment ensures that the radiologist gets an ideal view and permits the making of 3D images.
  • Your scan will be read by a Mass General radiologist specially trained in ultrasound imaging and dedicated to the specific area of interest for your study.
  • Ultrasound exams typically take 30 to 60 minutes.
  • The exam is performed by a trained professional called a sonographer, who will apply a clear gel then move a handheld wand, called a transducer, over the area to be scanned.
  • You will feel pressure from the transducer, but ultrasound is usually painless.
  • Certain exams require preparation, such as fasting or having a full bladder; your physician will advise you about the required preparation.
  • During the exam, you may be asked to change positions or hold your breath.

Ultrasound in depth

What is an ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound is similar to the sonar that submarines use to navigate underwater. The ultrasound machine emits vibrations that enter your body and then echo back. These echoes create the ultrasound image. The frequency of the vibration is just above the frequency of audible sound, which is why we use the term "ultra" in ultrasound. These vibrations are so gentle that they cannot be felt, and have no known harmful effects.

Common uses

  • Abdomen: Ultrasound can be used to detect gallstones, check the health of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and spleen, and monitor the success of a kidney transplant.
  • Blood vessels: Ultrasound exams can reveal enlargements in vessels, blood clots or narrowing of arteries leading to the brain, which could result in stroke.
  • Pelvis: Ultrasound is used to image the uterus, ovaries and other structures within the pelvis. It may assist in determining the source of pain or bleeding in the female pelvis.
  • Cancer: Ultrasound can locate lumps in organs and tissues, and can often distinguish the difference between fluid-filled cysts and cancerous tumors. It is frequently used to guide a needle biopsy (removal of tissue using a needle instead of surgery), and can be used to help detect prostate cancer and monitor treatment.
  • Pregnancy: Ultrasound is regarded as the Gold Standard diagnostic exam for monitoring pregnancy. Mass General Imaging performs pregnancy ultrasound up to 13 weeks of gestation. Fetal ultrasounds after 13 weeks are performed by the Mass General Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Ultrasound exam


For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no known harmful effects on humans. Ultrasound imaging uses no ionizing radiation.

What should I expect BEFORE my ultrasound exam?

You will receive specific instructions based on the type of ultrasound you are undergoing. In general, the following guidelines apply.

  • Food and drink: If you are having an abdominal ultrasound, you should have been instructed not to eat or drink anything 8 hours prior to your exam. Other ultrasound exams such as pelvic, thyroid, scrotal, and vascular studies do not require any preparation.
  • When to arrive: You should arrive 10 minutes prior to your appointment time.
  • What to wear: You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. You will have the option to change into a gown.
  • Please note that we do not have childcare facilities, and are unable to care for your children during your ultrasound examination.

What will I experience DURING my ultrasound exam?

  • Scanning: A sonographer, a health care professional specially trained in the use of ultrasound, will apply a gel to the skin over the area being examined. The gel maximizes contact between the transducer (a microphone-like device) and the skin, thereby producing high quality images.

    The sonographer then passes the transducer over the targeted area and obtains the desired diagnostic data. Depending on the type of exam, you may have to lie still, change positions, or hold your breath.

    Certain exams require the insertion of a specially designed transducer into the vagina or rectum to obtain better images. This is called transvaginal or transrectal ultrasound. If your exam requires this additional imaging, we will discuss this with you and ask your permission beforehand.

What should I expect AFTER my ultrasound scan?

  • Instructions: You have no restrictions after having an ultrasound and can go about your normal activities.
  • Exam results: All scans are read by a Mass General radiologist specialty trained in ultrasound imaging and dedicated to the specific area of interest for your study. Rapid results are essential not only for your peace-of-mind, but also for your physician to begin planning your treatment immediately, if necessary. After the scan has been read the results are sent to your physician, who will discuss them with you.



  • Planning a return to Haiti - 7/24/2015, Mass General

    In February 2015, Elizabeth Christiansen, RVT, Corinne Payette, RVT, and vascular medicine fellow Jessica Mintz, DO, traveled to Haiti to teach physicians how to perform lifesaving ultrasound exams in their native environment.


  • Imaging specialists, focused on you

    Imaging specialists, focused on you

    Each radiologist at Mass General Imaging is a specialist in a particular area of the body. Department of Radiology Chairman Emeritus James H. Thrall, MD, explains how patients benefit from the additional specialty training our physicians have completed.

Request an Appointment

Call to schedule an appointment 617-724-9729

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