General ultrasound - information for patients

Welcome to the Imaging Department

The Imaging department may also be called the X-ray or Radiology department. It is the facility in the hospital where examinations of patients are carried out, using a range of equipment such as a Computerised Tomography (CT) scanner, an ultrasound machine and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner.

Radiologists are doctors specially trained to interpret the images and carry out more complex examinations. They are supported by radiographers and sonographers who are highly trained to carry out X-rays and other imaging procedures.

What is an ultrasound scan?

An ultrasound scan builds up a picture using sound waves that cannot be heard by the human ear. Ultrasound images complement other forms of scan and are widely used for many different body parts.

Are there any risks?

No, there are no known risks.

Do I need to prepare in advance?

Often it is necessary to prepare for a scan. For example, if your pelvis, kidneys or bladder are to be scanned, you may need to have a full bladder for the examination. For areas such as the liver, you may need to not eat for a number of hours. If so, this will be explained in your appointment letter.

If you feel you may have difficulties with the preparation, please contact our bookings team to discuss. The contact number is on your appointment letter.

Can I bring somebody with me?

Yes, you may bring a friend or relative with you. It may not always be possible for them to accompany you into the scanning room but please do ask and we will try to accommodate your request.

What will happen when I arrive?

Please go to the reception desk. You will be shown where to wait until a member of staff comes to collect you. If you are coming to Southmead Hospital, please follow the check-in process outlined in your appointment letter.

Toilets are clearly signposted within the department. However, please do not use the toilet until after the examination if you have been asked to fill your bladder.

Who will I see?

You will be seen by a radiologist or a sonographer depending on upon the type of investigation you are having.

North Bristol NHS Trust is a teaching hospital; there may be a trainee present for some examinations. They will be introduced at the beginning of the examination. If you would prefer them not to be present, please feel free to say to the radiologist or sonographer.

Will I need to undress?

We will tell you if you need to remove any clothes covering the area being examined before your examination. Private cubicles are available if you need to take off your outer garments or put on a hospital gown.

What happens during the scan?

We will ask you to lie down on a couch, and we will dim the lights so that the images on the screen can be seen more clearly. We will apply a gel to your skin over the area to be scanned.

You may be asked to take deep breaths and to hold your breath for a few moments. For a scan of the bladder, it may occasionally not be full enough for the examination and you may be asked to drink more fluid and wait while the bladder fills up.

The radiologist/sonographer will move the ultrasound probe over your skin while viewing the images on a screen. Selected images will be taken so that they can be viewed later. Upon completion, the gel will be wiped off and you will be free to get dressed.

Will it be uncomfortable?

Ultrasound itself does not produce discomfort and apart from the probe on your skin you should not feel anything.

Occasionally it may be necessary to apply some pressure over an inflamed area to check what is causing the pain; this may cause discomfort temporarily.

If your bladder is uncomfortably full, please tell the radiologist/ sonographer so that this part of the examination can be completed as soon as possible. You can the leave the room to empty your bladder before returning to any further examination.

Intimate examinations

If you are having an intimate examination the radiologist or sonographer will explain the procedure to you and ask for your consent.

Please note we have both male and female staff performing these examinations. If you would prefer a male or female to perform your examination, please contact our bookings team. The number is on your appointment letter, we will be more than happy to accommodate your request.

Types of intimate examinations may include the below.

Female patients - for examinations of the womb or ovaries

A “transvaginal” ultrasound means “through the vagina”.

During the procedure, you’ll be asked to lie on your back with your knees bent.

A small ultrasound probe with a sterile cover, not much wider than a finger, is then gently passed into the vagina and images are transmitted to a monitor.

Internal examinations may cause some discomfort, but don’t usually cause any pain and shouldn’t take very long. You will be asked to empty your bladder before this scan is done.

If you have not been sexually active before, an internal scan will not be performed. Please call the appointment number on your letter to let them know and they will make a note that this component of the scan has been cancelled. It is especially important to make sure your bladder is full for the scan.

Male patients - examinations of the scrotum

In most intimate scans, a chaperone will be present and if there is not, you may request this if you wish. Please let the person doing your scan know.

How long will it take?

The process of carrying out a scan usually takes around 20 minutes. Unless emergency patients delay you, your total time should be less than an hour.

Are there any side effects?

No. You can drive afterwards and return to work as necessary.

Can I eat and drink afterwards?

Provided no other investigations are needed, you can eat and drink normally after your scan.

When will I get the results?

After the scan, we will examine the images further and prepare a report on our findings. This may take some time to reach your referring doctor, but is normally less than 14 days. You could ask the radiologist/sonographer how long it might take to get the results.

References

This leaflet is based on the NHS England website for Ultrasound scans. Ultrasound scan - NHS (www.nhs.uk) (accessed 05.05.2022)

NHS Constitution for England. Information on your rights and responsibilities. The NHS Constitution for England - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) (accessed 05.05.2022)

NHS Constitution. Information on your rights and responsibilities. Available at www.nhs.uk/aboutnhs/constitution

 

If you or the individual you are caring for need support reading this leaflet, please ask a member of staff for advice.

© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published June 2022. Review due June 2025. NBT002024

General ultrasound - information for patients