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Pelvic Ultrasound: What is It, Conditions, and How It is Done

Pelvic ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and generated echos to create a clear image of the organs, their condition, and placement in the pelvic region.

Medical experts have been known to often recommend this scan to diagnose health complications related to the reproductive organs. It also allows the doctors to check your pelvic health. It is especially very useful for diagnosing the health of babies in the womb.

In this guide, you will learn what pelvic ultrasound is, how it’s done, and who should be going through the procedure. But before we get started, let’s take a look at different female pelvic organs and the symptoms of pelvic pain.

A] Female Pelvic Organs

Here’s a list of female pelvic organs and their structures:

  • Endometrium: This is a layer of tissues lining the uterus.
  • Uterus: Also known as the womb, the uterus is a pear-shaped, hollow organ that is situated between the organs bladder and rectum. Every month, it sheds some tissue around its lining during menstruation unless it has an ovum implanted in it, which is followed by pregnancy.
  • Ovaries: There are two ovaries in the pelvic region, and they are the female reproductive organs responsible for producing and storing egg cells or ova. Ovaries are also responsible for producing oestrogen and progesterone, two important female sex hormones.
  • Cervix: This is the lower and narrower part of the uterus located in the area between the rectum and the bladder. The cervix creates a canal that opens into the vagina, leading it outside of the body.
  • Vagina: Also known as the birth canal, the vagina works as the connection between the vulva and the cervix. It works as a passageway for the fluids of the menstrual period to come out of the body.
  • Vulva:It’s the external section of the female genitalia.

B] What is Pelvic Pain?

Pelvic pain is one of the most common problems experienced by women, and it originates in their lower abdomen. The reason for such pain is still unclear, and the intensity of the pain can vary greatly depending on the person.

Still, experts categorised pelvic pain into two types:

  • Acute Pain: This type of pain often appears suddenly, and it’s quite painful and even agonising at times.
  • Chronic Pain: In this type of pelvic pain, women experience pain continuously for a long time. Chronic pain is known to last for months.

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C] Symptoms of Pelvic Pain

Pelvic ultrasound scans are important to figure out the causes of pelvic pain. However, experts will look into the symptoms of your pain first to understand if it can be categorised as pelvic pain. These symptoms are:

  • Chronic pain in the pelvic region that appears slowly but can persist for up to a month.
  • A sharp stabbing pain in the pelvic region often appears all of a sudden (Acute pain).
  • The throbbing pain that comes with cramps. It shows up and goes without any notice.
  • A feeling of pressure and ache in the pelvic area.
  • A sensation of sudden pain that comes when performing normal activities like exercising, urinating, or having sex.

D] Causes Of Pelvic Pain

There can be several medical conditions that can cause pelvic pain. Some of the most notable causes are:

For a detailed understanding of the causes of pelvic pain, you can refer to our comprehensive guide for pelvic pain in women.

E] What is a Pelvic Ultrasound?

Pelvic ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging exam that uses sound waves of a specific frequency to create a picture of the pelvic organs of a female body. The pictures of the pelvic organs and their structures created by this method are called sonograms.

Doctors and medical examiners use pelvic ultrasound scans to visualise the state of the pelvic organs, which includes the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, etc.

The scan involves the usage of several pelvic ultrasound tools, including a transducer that produces sound waves that have a frequency too high for the human ears to perceive. This tool is often placed on the surface of the skin or sent through the vaginal or rectum cavity to initiate the scan.

The ultrasound waves created by this tool travel through different organs, and the structure of the pelvic region bounces off them and returns back to the transducer. The transducer uses this echo to create images of pelvic organs and their nearby structure.

F] The Different Types of Pelvic Ultrasound

Medical experts use different types of pelvic ultrasound scans, which they choose based on the pelvic organ they want to scan or the symptoms of pelvic pain.

We’ll discuss three main types of pelvic scans:

  • Abdominal Ultrasound: Abdominal pelvic ultrasound scan is often used to examine the pelvic organs from outside of the abdominal area. Experts perform this scan by applying conductive gel on your belly and then placing the transducer on it.
  • Pregnancy Ultrasound: This pelvic scan, a type of early pregnancy scan, is often used to observe the foetal development and movement inside the uterus of a woman. Apart from that, doctors may order a pelvic ultrasound for pregnant women if they are suffering from pelvic pain.
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound: In this scan, a long and thin transducer is coated with conductive gel and inserted through the vaginal canal to examine the female reproductive organs with more accuracy.

G] How Does a Pelvic Ultrasound Work?

Let’s see how Abdominal and Transvaginal pelvic ultrasound work, including the procedure.

1. Abdominal Ultrasound

Abdominal pelvic ultrasound or transabdominal ultrasound is the easiest one to perform among the various types of pelvic scans. The doctor or the medical expert will ask you to lie down on the table and expose the lower abdominal area to start the scan.

After that, the doctor will spray the conductive gel on the surface of the lower abdominal region and press the transducer on the gel-coated area. The doctor will then move the transducer around at different angles.

As the transducer moves, the image of your pelvic organs and their structure will be created on a screen in real-time. These images will be printed and included in your medical files, so other doctors can check these images to see if they can identify any abnormality.

The whole process of an abdominal pelvic scan lasts about 20-25 minutes. And after the scan is over, the doctor in charge of the ultrasound scan will clear the conductive gel.

2. Transvaginal Ultrasound

The transvaginal ultrasound procedure uses a transducer that will be inserted through a patient’s vaginal canal. The transducer will be sent up to 2-3 inches into the vaginal canal.

After that, it will use ultrasonic sound waves to perform the ultrasound scan of your abdomen and pelvis.

H] Advantages of Pelvic Ultrasound

Many doctors and clinics recommend pelvic ultrasound scans over others because of some obvious benefits. The key advantages are as follows:

  • Pelvis ultrasound provides high-quality sonographic images of the pelvic region that allows the experts to find abnormalities that could cause pelvic pain.
  • The ultrasound scans can be completed quickly. It can take as short as 15 minutes and usually never exceeds an hour.
  • As pelvic ultrasound scan uses sound waves with zero radiation, it’s quite safe and usually doesn’t have any side effects.

I] How To Prepare for Pelvic Ultrasound?

Although there are no extensive pelvic ultrasound prep requirements, you still need to do a few things to ensure that the pelvic scan goes smoothly. For example, you must have a full bladder if you are going to enter an abdominal ultrasound scan.

Experts recommend drinking 1 litre of water at least one hour before the scan starts to keep your bladder full. This way, the pelvic organs will show up more clearly during the ultrasound, and doctors will get clearer images during checkups. You can empty your bladder after the scan in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, transvaginal ultrasound requires you to have an empty bladder. So, you should use the bathroom a few minutes before the beginning of the scan. You should also wear loose and comfortable clothes, as you may require to wear a gown during the private pelvic ultrasound.

J] Side-effects of a Pelvic Ultrasound

In general, the pelvic ultrasound scan doesn’t have any side effects. The scan uses ultrasonic sound waves that contain no radiation. So, even if the scan lasts for a long time, there will be no medical complications due to radiation like X-ray scans.

You might feel some discomfort during the transvaginal ultrasound when the sonographer inserts the transducer into the vaginal canal or rectum. But apart from the discomfort, they usually don’t have any other risks.

For urgent abdominal pelvic ultrasounds, the doctors might use a urinary catheter to fill your bladder. This may have some risks, which depend on your medical condition. So, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider.

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Pelvic ultrasound scans are safe and reliable procedures that allow doctors to see the state of your pelvic organs and their overall structure clearly. With pelvic ultrasound scan images, medical experts can diagnose a wide range of health complications like pelvic pain, causes of pelvic floor muscle weakness, and complications related to female reproductive organs.

The sooner you get the scan done, the faster doctors can detect the abnormalities in your pelvic region, leading to a smoother pelvic pain treatment.

With our Well Women Clinic, every woman can get access to preventive healthcare and tailor-made checkups. Whether it’s pelvic pain, STDs, birth control, or any other health changes, with us, you can talk about your case comfortably and go through necessary checkouts.

Are you planning to book an appointment with us? Do not hesitate to reach out. You can also go through the first visit guide for an accurate and smooth general or reproductive health checkup.

Neha Goel

Neha Goel, a Psychology alumna and MBA graduate from CASS Business School, London, brings together her expertise as a Reiki Practitioner and Practice Manager. She integrates psychology and business strategies to foster holistic well-being and personal development.