Transvaginal Ultrasound


Your doctor has suggested that you have a pelvic ultrasound.  What does that mean? 

A pelvic ultrasound is a medical test ordered by your doctor and is usually done in a radiology department for the purpose of looking at your uterus and ovaries.  Perhaps you have pelvic pain or abnormal bleeding.  Perhaps you are at risk for ovarian cancer.  Ultrasound is a very good method of looking at the uterus and ovaries because it is very accurate, relatively inexpensive, and fairly easy.

There are two ways to look at your uterus and ovaries using ultrasound.  An ultrasound technologist will use a transducer to scan through the lower part of your abdomen, through your full bladder, and image your uterus and ovaries which lie behind your bladder.  This is why itís important to have a full bladder for a trans-abdominal ultrasound.  If your bladder is empty, the technologist will have a difficult time seeing your pelvic organs.  In emergent situations, a catheter may be inserted into your bladder to fill it with water.

The uterus lies behind the bladder

The second method of imaging your uterus and ovaries is using a vaginal ultrasound transducer.  The transducer crystals are located on the end of the probe that goes into your vagina.  The technologist manipulates the probe with a handle.  This method of looking at your uterus and ovaries is much better than the abdominal approach because the transducer is closer to your pelvic organs.  The end of the probe is right against your cervix.  Because the technologist doesnít have to look through your muscle, fat, or intestines like in the abdominal approach, the images are much better with the transvaginal probe.

Vaginal ultrasound probe

After you have emptied your bladder, you will be asked to lie on your back on the table with your feet in stirrups or your bottom propped up with a pillow.  This allows the technologist to have a good range of motion with the probe.   After you have been positioned, the technologist will insert the probe into your vagina, or ask you to do it.  If you wish to do it, let the technologist know. 

After the probe is inserted, the technologist will be moving it around to visualize your uterus and ovaries.  Sometimes it may be uncomfortable because the ovaries can lie far to the right or left, up or down.

The probe will be covered with a non-latex sheath or condom that will be removed after use.  The probe will also be disinfected prior to the next use.

Many facilities require that a chaperone be present, just as it is when you have a pelvic exam from your gynecologist.  Male technologists always do this and many facilities require one even when a female is doing the exam.  If a chaperone isnít present for your exam, you are welcome to ask for one. 

The other good thing about a vaginal ultrasound is that your bladder has to be empty.  Many women find the vaginal ultrasound to be much more comfortable than having a full bladder and the technologist pushing on it to obtain good images from your abdomen.

With a skilled technologist, a pelvic ultrasound, including a vaginal ultrasound, shouldnít take much more than ten or fifteen minutes.  In many facilities, the technologist will have to show the pictures to the radiologist before you leave to make sure that everything has been visualized.  In some cases, the pictures may not be good enough and the radiologist may suggest a pelvic MRI.

If you are on your period, you should remove your tampon if youíre wearing one, when you are asked to empty your bladder.  The test wonít be affected by you being on your period and the technologist wonít either!  Donít worry about it.

Vaginal ultrasound is not usually done on girls that have never been sexually active.  Your technologist may spend more time looking through your abdomen and may be more insistent that your bladder is properly filled.  If for any reason you donít want to have a vaginal ultrasound, please let your technologist know.  Itís always your right to refuse any medical test.


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