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A pelvic ultrasound is a procedure that allows your healthcare provider to look at what’s going on inside your pelvis. Your healthcare provider may request the test to diagnose unexplained pain, swelling, or infections in your pelvis, which is the space between your hip bones that contains the large triangle-shaped bone at the bottom of your spine (sacrum), your tailbone, bladder, sex organs, and rectum (the final portion of your large intestine that connects to your anus). A pelvic ultrasound is the best test to examine a growth in your pelvis. It helps your healthcare provider determine if the growth is a fluid-filled cyst, a solid tumor, or another kind of lump.
A pelvic ultrasound is a safe procedure that can be slightly uncomfortable. The test is performed on men and women of all ages. Since the pelvis contains your sex organs, the ultrasound looks at different things for men and women. During the test, a trained medical technician will squirt a small amount of warm gel on your skin over your pelvic area. The technician will move a handheld device (called a wand) through the gel and across your pelvis. The technician will monitor the images on a nearby screen and record the images for the healthcare provider. The probe is connected to an ultrasound machine. As the device moves across your pelvis, it produces high-frequency sound waves. Those sound waves create real-time photos and video of the inside of your pelvis. The images look similar to an X-ray. However, ultrasound technology picks up things that aren’t seen by an X-ray.
Path to improved health
A pelvic ultrasound can be done one of three ways — abdominally (the outer stomach), vaginally (inside a woman’s vagina), or rectally (the area between the bottom of your large intestine and your anus). The approach your healthcare provider recommends for your ultrasound depends on the reason for your test and whether you are a man or a woman. A pelvic ultrasound can be used to look at the bladder for both men and women. Your healthcare provider may recommend a pelvic ultrasound of your bladder if you are having difficulty going to the bathroom (urinating). It is used to guide a healthcare provider during a biopsy procedure (inserting a needle into the pelvis to take samples of fluid or tissue).
A transabdominal ultrasound is commonly used to monitor the development of a baby in pregnant women between 18 and 20 weeks in their pregnancy. For this type of ultrasound, the technician will squirt a small amount of warm gel onto your stomach and move the probe or wand back and forth over your stomach. It will check the baby’s growth, such as height, the length of the baby’s arms and legs, head size, and more. It will be used to check how far along the mother is in the pregnancy, the baby’s position in the uterus, the number of babies the mother is carrying, and the amount of amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby. It can be used to look at the baby’s heart. In some cases, it may be used as a screening method for certain birth defects and developmental abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. A transabdominal ultrasound also can be used to look for tumors in your uterus and other issues related to the female body, whether you are pregnant or not.
A transvaginal ultrasound is a specially shaped probe that can fit inside a vagina. The probe will be inserted into your vagina. It is commonly used in the early weeks of a pregnancy to determine how far along a mother is in the pregnancy and a due date. This method brings the probe closer to the uterus and provides a clearer view of a fetus during a mother’s first trimester. Outside of pregnancy, your healthcare provider may recommend a transvaginal ultrasound for the following reasons:
- To locate an intrauterine device used for birth control.
- To determine the cause of infertility (or to guide your healthcare provider during a fertility treatment or procedure).
- To look for (ovarian) cysts or other growths in your pelvis.
- To determine the cause of abnormal vaginal bleeding or problems with your menstrual period.
- To diagnose unexplained pelvic pain.
- To look for an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg begins to develop outside of the uterus).
A transrectal ultrasound is commonly used on men. The end of the probe for this type of ultrasound is shaped to partially fit inside a rectum. A healthcare provider will recommend a transrectal ultrasound to examine problems with the prostate (the gland that makes semen) and the glands that secrete some of a man’s semen (seminal vesicles). The test may also be done to look for rectal sphincter problems, such as incontinence.
Depending upon the type of pelvic ultrasound you are having, preparing may be slightly different.
In all pelvic ultrasounds, you will be asked to put on a light hospital gown to make it easy for the technician to access your pelvis. You will lie on your back the entire time unless the technician needs you to turn to get a better picture. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes. You should follow up with your healthcare provider to go over your results. The only mild discomfort you might have is from the pressure of the probe on your belly (abdomen) or near where the probe was inserted. Your body is not exposed to radiation during a pelvic ultrasound.
Things to consider
There is a slight risk of infection with transvaginal and transrectal ultrasounds, since they are done inside your body. Contact your healthcare provider if you have abnormal discharge or fever after your ultrasound.