Ultrasound imaging of the pelvis, also known as pelvic ultrasound, provides images of the structures and organs in the lower abdomen and pelvis. There are three types of pelvic ultrasound:

  • abdominal (transabdominal)
  • vaginal (transvaginal or endovaginal) for women
  • rectal (transrectal) for men.

A Doppler ultrasound study is usually an integral part of a pelvic ultrasound examination. Doppler ultrasound is a special ultrasound technique that evaluates blood flow through a blood vessel.

Ultrasound imaging uses a small probe, called a transducer, and gel placed directly on the skin. High-frequency sound waves travel from the probe, through the gel, into the body. The probe collects the sounds that bounce back. A computer uses those sound waves to create the images for the exam.

When would I get an Ultrasound of the Pelvis?

Your medical provider may recommend a pelvic ultrasound for women to evaluate the:

  • uterus
  • cervix
  • ovaries
  • fallopian tubes
  • bladder
  • health and development of an embryo or fetus during pregnancy.

Ultrasound examinations can help diagnose symptoms such as pelvic pain, abdominal bleeding and other menstrual problems. A pelvic ultrasound may also help identify palpable masses, such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, and ovarian or uterine cancers.

A common type of pelvic ultrasound, transvaginal, is usually performed to view the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus, and the ovaries. Transvaginal ultrasound also provides a good way to evaluate the muscular walls of the uterus, known as the myometrium. Three-Dimensional (3D) ultrasound, also known as sonohysterography, permits evaluation of the uterus and ovaries in planes that cannot be imaged directly. Your medical provider may recommend this type of exam to detect:

  • uterine anomalies
  • uterine scars
  • endometrial polyps
  • fibroids
  • cancer, especially in patients with abnormal uterine bleeding.

Your medical provider may recommend a pelvic ultrasound for men to evaluate:

  • the shape or size of the bladder
  • A delay in the ability to start passing urine
  • difficulties with completely emptying the bladder
  • symptoms of urgency to use the bathroom/decreased control of the bladder
  • a suspected enlarged prostate
  • abnormalities with the lymph nodes, fluid, blood or masses within the pelvic cavity
  • infections, tumors or calcifications of the prostate.

What Will I Experience?

For most ultrasound exams, you will lie on your back on an exam table. You may have your position adjusted to either side in order to improve the quality of the images captured during the exam.

An ultrasound technologist will apply a warm water-based gel to the area of the body being studied. The gel will help the transducer make secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the transducer and the skin that can block the sound waves from passing into your body. The transducer is placed on the body and moved back and forth over the area of interest until the desired images are captured.

There is usually no discomfort from pressure as the transducer is pressed against the area being examined. However, if scanning is performed over an area that is tender or sensitive, you may feel some pressure or minor discomfort from the transducer.

Once the exam is complete, the clear ultrasound gel will be wiped off your skin. Any portions that are not wiped off will dry quickly. The ultrasound gel does not usually stain or discolor clothing.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

Transvaginal ultrasound is performed very much like a gynecologic exam. It involves the insertion of the transducer into the vagina after you empty your bladder. The tip of the transducer is smaller than the standard speculum used when performing a Pap test. A protective cover is placed over the transducer, lubricated with a small amount of gel, and then inserted into the vagina. Only two to three inches of the transducer end are inserted into the vagina.

Transrectal Ultrasound

For a transrectal ultrasound, a protective cover is placed over the transducer. It is lubricated and then placed into the rectum. Usually, you will lay on your side, facing away from the examiner, with your knees and hips slightly flexed.

Typically, ultrasound imaging of the pelvis, depending upon the type, takes approximately 30 to 90 minutes to complete.