General

Ultrasound is a convenient and accessible tool for examination. It is relatively cheap and fast. Additionally, patients are not exposed to ionizing radiation.

Figure 1 gives some idea of the many applications of ultrasound technology. The list includes only tests performed by the radiologist; prenatal ultrasound tests in pregnant women, for instance, are performed by specialized obstetricians.

Overview of ultrasound indications.

Figure 1. Broad outline of ultrasound indications.

A significant benefit of ultrasound is that in some cases the clinical picture, e.g. local pressure pain or palpable swelling, can immediately be correlated with ultrasound findings. Additionally, it is a dynamic procedure with moving images. This may be useful, e.g. to demonstrate an inguinal hernia during Valsava or assess compressibility of the gallbladder or vessels (fig. 2).

Inguinal hernia during Valsava

Figure 2. Inguinal hernia (US performed during Valsalva maneuver followed by compression with the probe).

Unfortunately, ultrasound also has its drawbacks. Not all patients are suitable for ultrasound. In adipous patients, it can be difficult to image everything clearly (fig. 3). Additionally, the quality of the examination largely depends on the experience of the person performing the ultrasound.

Click to see overlay

Image quality in an adipous versus slender patient during an ultrasound examination
Image quality in an adipous versus slender patient during an ultrasound examination

Figure 3. Difference in image quality in an adipous versus slender patient.

For additional details on specific ultrasound examinations, see the respective courses, e.g. General Abdominal Ultrasound.