How Long Should an Ultrasound Take? A Simple Guide

If you've been referred by your doctor for an ultrasound examination, it can be an exciting time if you're pregnant, or a worrying time if you're having painful symptoms which need to be investigated.

Either way, you're sure to have a lot of questions.

What is an ultrasound and how does it work? How long should an ultrasound take? How should I prepare for an ultrasound?

Read on to find out all about preparing for an ultrasound. 

What Is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound scan is a medical test used by doctors to capture live images of what's going on inside your body. It uses similar technology to sonar and radar, which is what the military uses to detect far away airplanes or ships underwater.

Doctors use it to see problems with internal organs, without the need for a surgical incision. Ultrasound scanning uses no radiation, making it safer than a CT scan or x-ray, so it's the preferred choice for viewing the fetus during pregnancy.

How Do I Prepare for an Ultrasound?

Your doctor should give you detailed instructions about this, but it depends on the organ which is going to be examined.

If you're having an abdominal scan, you may be asked to fast (go without food and/or water) for a period of time before the examination, as undigested food can block the view for the sonographer.

For an antenatal scan, you may be asked to drink a lot then hold your urine. It's easier for the sound waves to travel through liquid, so a full bladder ensures a better view of the baby.

How Long Should an Ultrasound Take?

Most ultrasound scans will be done within 30 minutes, then you will be free to go about your daily business. In the case of pregnancy ultrasounds though, there is a little more variation.

The Americal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend that all women should have at least two ultrasounds during pregnancy. It's an important way to check the health and growth of the baby throughout pregnancy.

A routine ultrasound in the first trimester may take less than 15 minutes. The sonographer will use either a transabdominal or transvaginal approach to examine the uterus and surrounding area.

The ultrasound purpose in early pregnancy is to check the presence of an embryo and heartbeat, check the number of embryos and the gestational age, so that you know the due date of your baby, or babies!

The second trimester ultrasound can take up to 45 minutes. This is the scan where it's usually possible to find out the sex of the baby which 85% of parents want to know this before delivery.

After The Ultrasound

Now that you know the answer to the big question, how long should an ultrasound take, you might be wondering what happens next? Sometimes the ultrasound will provide enough information for the doctor to make a diagnosis and start treatment right away. If not, you might need more tests, like an MRI or CT scan.

In the case of pregnancy ultrasounds, you should hopefully have a nice picture of your baby to take home! If further tests are needed, your doctor should explain everything to you. 

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