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What a sonographer looks for in a sonogram

Sonogram image

One of the many tests you may encounter during pregnancy is a sonogram.

A sonogram uses ultrasound to create images to diagnose problems or to assess fetal health and viability.

Generally an anatomical survey of the fetus is done around the 20th week of pregnancy, although some physicians may order this test at 18 weeks.

The purpose of the anatomical survey is to assess the following:

  • Formation of the fetus which evaluates the structure of the face, brain, skull, spine, internal organs and limbs
  • Size of the fetus
  • Heart rate
  • Amniotic fluid measurement
  • Abnormalities in the fetus and the uterus
  • Ovaries of the mother

It’s very important that the pregnant patient have a full bladder when coming in for an ultrasound. That helps us assess the health of the cervix to make sure that the placenta is not over the cervix and that the cervix isn’t thinning too soon.

We recommend women drink 32 ounces of water an hour before the exam starts. Water is the best; drinking soda can make you feel like you have to go to the restroom even though your bladder probably isn’t full enough. Coffee tends to stimulate the bladder, so it’s important to drink only water.

Once the sonogram has been performed, the pictures taken during the ultrasound will go to a physician called a radiologist who will interpret them. Radiologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and interpreting images obtained by medical imaging techniques such as sonography, MRI, X-ray, etc.

Typically your personal physician will receive the results of the sonogram within 24-48 hours of the test. Your physician will then contact you regarding the results.

There are a couple of different types of sonograms or ultrasounds which may be used during pregnancy.

A transabdominal ultrasound is done by placing a probe on the outside of the lower abdomen. It is used to look at the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix of the woman.

A transvaginal ultrasound might be necessary if the transabdominal ultrasound was not able to see everything. This type of ultrasound is typically used before 12 weeks of pregnancy.

When it comes to looking at the fetus, there are three types of ultrasound that are typically used. All three generate photos and track motion:

  • Traditional 2-D ultrasound
  • 3-D ultrasound; generates three-dimentional photos of the fetus
  • 4-D ultrasound;  adds motion to a 3-D image and shows movement over time

It is important to understand that although 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds are popular ways of seeing a fetus while you’re pregnant, they do require an order from a physician.

About Cheryl Shackelford

Cheryl Shackelford is a registered sonographer with Ascension Via Christi Imaging in Wichita, Kansas.