The way the terms sonogram and ultrasound are used interchangeably, it might be easy to assume they mean the same thing. While they’re closely associated and can get away with being swapped in casual conversation, they do have important, distinct technical definitions. In this guide, we’ll learn more about the meaning of sonogram and ultrasound, and examine some of the different procedures involved with both.
Sonogram vs. Ultrasound
If we’re speaking casually, sonogram and ultrasound are medical terms used to reference the same type of procedure. It’s important to know the technical difference, especially if you’re looking to break into the medical field. Learn some of the basics of medical terminology with this course.
Ultrasound is the name of the actual exam. During an ultrasound exam, a doctor applies the ultrasound gel to the area of the patient’s body that will be scanned. This gel helps transmit the high-frequency sound waves produced by the probe-like ultrasound transducer. You can learn the science of sound in this guide for more insight. The ultrasound gel also acts as a lubricant so that the doctor can move the transducer over the patient’s skin with minimal friction. Through this process, the transducer both transmits and collects the sound waves that travel through and bounce back from the patient’s body, sending the data back into the computer to create an internal image. This image is called the sonogram.
A sonogram is the actual image produced from the ultrasound procedure. It’s like an X-ray, in the sense that it allows medical professionals to generate a visualization of the internal body for diagnostic purposes. Sonograms are useful during pregnancy, because they allow doctors to produce a live feed of the growing fetus, check for abnormalities, and to determine its due date. Sonograms can also be used to examine the patient for medical issues that may not be determinable from the outside, such as internal bleeding. Unlike an actual CT scan or X-ray, however, an ultrasound does not use radiation to obtain an internal image. A sonogram can therefore be safely obtained without endangering a pregnant patient and the fetus.
In short, ultrasound is the name of the procedure which is used to produce a sonogram, which is the actual image. The confusion between the terms sonogram and ultrasound could also arise from the term ultrasonography, or simply sonography. Sonography is the actual imaging technique that the ultrasound procedure uses. Learn how sound waves work during an ultrasound with this introductory physics course.
Types of Ultrasounds
There are several different types of ultrasound exams, performed on different parts of the body as needed. While the procedure might differ for each, the imaging technique used to produce the sonogram remains the same. Learn more about human anatomy in this integrative biology course.
An abdominal ultrasound can be used to produce sonograms of organs in the mid to upper abdomen, such as the:
Pelvic ultrasounds are used to capture sonograms for structures in the lower abdominal and pelvic area. These can be obtained through numerous means, including externally and internally. Internal ultrasound procedures include:
- transvaginal or endovaginal
For both of these procedures, the ultrasound transducer is inserted into the examined orifice. A transvaginal ultrasound might be used to collect images of the reproductive system, including the uterus, ovaries, and cervix. It might also be used to capture images of the fetus, if the woman is pregnant. A transrectal ultrasound, also called a prostate ultrasound, is used to check the prostate gland for possible cancer or related defects.
Vascular ultrasounds are used to capture images of the veins and arteries of the body. Since an ultrasound is a live feed, a sonogram can demonstrate the flow of blood through the body. It is an ideal and non-invasive way to examine the circulatory health of a patient, and check for signs or risks of stroke and other related issues. Want to learn more health related key words for your studies? Check out this course on the principles of medical terminology.
An obstetrical ultrasound is the type most people are aware of. It is the procedure that checks on the health of an embryo or fetus within the uterus. Some studies say that practicing yoga during pregnancy is a great way to stay in shape and ensure a healthy delivery. Learn how to begin with this course on prenatal yoga.
An ultrasound on the breasts can be used to check for breast cancer. If a lump or cyst is detected manually or during a mammogram, a breast ultrasound might be the next step to determining the nature of the defect.
A thyroid ultrasound is used to check for lesions or other issues arising in the thyroid glands.
Ultrasound Imaging Technology
Some of these ultrasound procedures use advanced sonograph technology to produce different types of images. Doppler ultrasound, useful for examinations of the circulatory system, can produce images of blood flowing through the body.
Echocardiograms are special ultrasounds performed on the upper rib cage to obtain detailed images of the heart. A transesophageal echocardigram is an internal ultrasound performed by inserting the transducer into the patient’s esophagus. The patient does not need to be put under for this procedure, since it uses a specialized transducer that is much smaller and more flexible than the usual probe.
Finally, 3D imaging allows the sonographer to produce three dimensional sonograms after the ultrasound, while 4D ultrasounds allow for three dimensional sonograms that depict motion. You can learn to be a sonographer and work with ultrasound technology by pursuing a career in the medical field. Get started with this course on how to make it into medical school. You can also learn more about how long it takes to score an entry-level medical job with this guide to the various education certifications and responsibilities of a medical assistant.