Ultrasound scanners utilise high-frequency sound waves to provide live images of the internal parts of the body. Throughout the years, ultrasound scanners have advanced to become one of the most integral parts of imaging.
In this article, we are going to discuss some of the main reasons why ultrasound scanners are essential in the medical field and why each medical facility should have one.
How Does an Ultrasound Scanner Work?
Ultrasound scans are integrated with transducers that produce pulsed sound waves that travel through the body. The frequency of the sound waves produced by diagnostic transducers is normally between 2 and 18 megahertz (MHz). Lower ultrasound frequencies penetrate deeper into the body but provide low-quality images while higher frequencies produce high-quality images but have a low penetration depth.
When an ultrasound is in use, the sound produced passes through soft tissue and fluids, but when it hits dense tissues, it bounces back to the transducer producing images of varying features. Different densities of body parts produce different shades of grey during imaging. A recording of the ultrasound can also be produced to show the movement of fluids or body parts, for example, the flow of blood in the heart.
During an external ultrasound, a gel is applied to the skin to maintain contact between it and the transducer. The gel also allows seamless movement of the transducer over the part being examined.
Internal ultrasound entails the insertion of a transducer through the body’s natural openings. Internal transducers include transrectal, transvaginal, and transesophageal transducers. Internal ultrasound helps the sonographer to acquire more informative images compared to external ultrasound.
Ultrasound imaging is painless, non-invasive, and has no known risks. This makes it the go-to imaging procedure unless more details of internal organs are required.
Ultrasound scanners allow quick imaging anywhere in the hospital, including emergency rooms. This makes it easy to diagnose and treat any defects or injuries before they worsen. Other diagnostic techniques, such as X-rays and CT scans, require preparation and can only be performed in specific rooms.
Sonography can be performed on almost any part of the body producing high-quality images which obviates the need for other imaging techniques. The following are some parts of the body that it can be used to image:
Examining the brain, hips, and spine in infants
Imaging using an ultrasound scanner can be done externally or internally. External imaging involves placing the scanner on the skin near the internal organs that you want to observe. Internal imaging using an ultrasound scanner is done via the vagina or rectum to scan reproductive organs using special probes.
The option to carry out external or internal imaging is significant as some factors may hinder external imaging. For example, a pregnant woman suffering from obesity may require an internal scan (transvaginal scan) to observe the pregnancy’s progress during the first trimester.
Unlike X-ray scans which expose patients to harmful ionizing radiation, ultrasound imaging poses no known safety concerns. This makes it the most preferred procedure for imaging purposes.
The safety of ultrasound scanners plays a significant role in paediatric and pregnant patients’ imaging. This is because the high number of immature cells in children and foetus makes them more susceptible to the ionizing radiation emitted through other procedures, such as x-rays, compared to adult patients.
In paediatric patients, ultrasound is used to examine the brain for any abnormalities such as periventricular leukomalacia and hydrocephalus (water in the brain). This is achieved by placing the ultrasound scanner on the fontanelle. It’s also used to examine the spine and hip to check for any defects.
During pregnancy, scans are performed every few months to assess the pregnancy’s progress. The safest way to perform the required scans is by using an ultrasound scanner. The scans also help to monitor fetal and maternal health.
Ultrasound scanners have made imaging so accessible in medical facilities, for both the patients and medical practitioners.
For medical practitioners and medical facilities, ultrasound scanners are cheaper to acquire, and unlike other imagining equipment, they occupy minimal space. The availability at a lower price while performing diverse tasks compared to their counterparts makes them convenient for hospitals to acquire. Using ultrasound scanners is also much easier and requires minimal to null preparation for both the patient and sonographer.
For patients, ultrasound imaging is much cheaper compared to other imaging procedures. This reduces overall medical costs.
With the advancement in technology, ultrasound scanners are now available with interchangeable probe heads or two heads on the same scanner. A good example is the Convex Transvaginal Ultrasound. It’s fitted with a convex probe on one end and a transvaginal/endovaginal probe on the other end. This makes it cheaper to acquire ultrasound scanners and easier to perform different scans with the same scanner.
The small size and weight of ultrasound scanners make imaging comfortable. Most of them are the size of a microphone and weigh an average of 300grams. Also, the most advanced ultrasound scanners are wirelessly connected to their imaging screens and are compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows devices. This makes them simpler to utilize even in operating rooms.
Compatibility with Android, Windows, and iOS devices makes ultrasound scanners portable which allows their use outside medical facilities. For example, emergency response teams can carry them to scan patients and start treatment protocols early if deemed necessary. Such convenience in the field saves lives.
Since the invention of diagnostic ultrasound scanners by Ian Donald more than half a century ago, ultrasound technology has advanced to become a vital part of imaging in modern medicine. This is because ultrasound scanners are essential in performing fast, detailed imagery without any inconveniences or potential harm to the patient. Modern ultrasound scanners are small in size for easier scanning and portability to any part of or outside the hospital.