Decorative image

Ultrasound scan

Ultrasound scans are useful for looking at individual organs such as the liver and kidneys and showing any changes.

What it is

Ultrasound scans use high frequency sound waves to create a picture of a part of the body.

How you have an ultrasound scan

The ultrasound scanner has a microphone that gives off sound waves. The sound waves bounce off the organs inside your body, and the microphone picks them up. The microphone links to a computer that turns the sound waves into a picture on the screen.

abdominal ultrasound

Ultrasound scans are completely painless. You usually have the scan in the hospital x-ray department by a sonographer. A sonographer is a trained professional who is specialised in ultrasound scanning.

Preparing for your scan

Check your appointment letter for any instructions about how to prepare for your scan.

You might need to stop eating for 6 hours beforehand. Let the scan team know if this will be a problem for any reason, for example if you are diabetic.

They might ask you to drink plenty before your scan so that you have a comfortably full bladder.

Take your medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

What happens

Before the scan

When you arrive at the clinic a staff member might ask you to take off your upper clothing and put on a hospital gown. You lie on a couch for the test.

During the scan

The sonographer puts a cold lubricating gel on the skin over the area they are checking. Then they gently rub the handheld probe over your skin. The gel helps the probe to slide over your skin so that the sonographer gets clear pictures on the screen.

You might feel a little pressure when the sonographer moves the probe around. Tell them if this is uncomfortable.

An ultrasound scan can take up to 45 minutes. The sonographer might ask you to change position a few times, so they can get the clearest pictures.

You can have a family member or a friend with you while you have the scan. Just let the sonographer know that someone will be with you.

What happens afterwards

You can eat and drink normally after the test. You can go straight home or back to work afterwards.

Possible risks

Ultrasound scans are a very safe procedure. It doesn’t involve radiation and there are usually no side effects.

Getting your results

Waiting for results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Information and help