Diagnostic sonography (ultrasonography) is an ultrasound-based diagnostic imaging technique used for visualizing subcutaneous body structures including tendons, muscles, joints, vessels and internal organs for possible pathology or lesions. The practice of examining pregnant women using ultrasound is called obstetric sonography, and is widely used.
In physics, 'ultrasound' refers to sound waves with a frequency too high for humans to hear. Ultrasound images (sonograms) are made by sending a pulse of ultrasound into tissue using an ultrasound transducer (probe). The sound reflects and echoes off parts of the tissue; this echo is recorded and displayed as an image to the operator.
Many different types of images can be formed using ultrasound. The most well-known type is a B-mode image, which displays a two-dimensional cross-section of the tissue being imaged. Other types of image can display blood flow, motion of tissue over time, the location of blood, the presence of specific molecules, the stiffness of tissue, or the anatomy of a three-dimensional region. Ultrasound can also be used therapeutically, to break up gallstones and kidney stones or to heat and destroy diseased or cancerous tissue.
Compared to other prominent methods of medical imaging, ultrasonography has several advantages. It provides images in real-time (rather than after an acquisition or processing delay), it is portable and can be brought to a sick patient's bedside, it is substantially lower in cost, and it does not use harmful ionizing radiation. Drawbacks of ultrasonography include various limits on its field of view including difficulty imaging structures behind bone, and its relative dependence on a skilled operator.
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