The Facts About Ultrasounds | National Ultrasound

Ultrasound Machines: Just the Facts

A medical professional uses an ultrasound for pain management on the deltoid.

For those in the medical field, the many uses of ultrasound are well known and recognized as being far more varied than the average person may expect. After all, most people primarily think of medical ultrasound as a tool to track the development of the fetus during pregnancy. But apart from that, what is an ultrasound used for? There are several other uses of ultrasound equipment in medicine – it is an important diagnostic as well as therapeutic tool. Yes, it can be used to treat severe disorders too!

Most of us know that ultrasound machines allow medical professionals to view the insides of our body with the help of ultrasound images, but what else do you know about this non-invasive process? Here are some interesting ultrasound facts – some of which might surprise you!

Perhaps the most well-known fact in the world of ultrasound – outside its use in pregnancy care – is that there are several animals that use ultrasound, referred to as echolocation, to navigate and survive. These include bats, whales, dolphins, and shrews. But, moving to the world of medicine – here are some interesting ultrasound facts.

A gynecologist shows a pregnant patient an ultrasound image of her fetus 

Perhaps the most well-known fact in the world of ultrasound – outside its use in pregnancy care – is that there are several animals that use ultrasound, referred to as echolocation, to navigate and survive. These include bats, whales, dolphins, and shrews. But, moving to the world of medicine – here are some interesting ultrasound facts.

1. Little-Known Ultrasound Machine Facts

  • Humans cannot hear ultrasound waves as these have a high frequency, but dogs and cats can!
  • Ultrasound is a form of mechanical energy, not electrical!
  • Ultrasound imaging occurs in a sequence of three stages – producing the sound wave, receiving echoes, and finally interpreting those.
  • Ultrasound, with its non-invasive and non-ionizing radiation, is safe and has no known side-effects, unlike other imaging methods. Therefore, it’s the most preferred imaging technology in most diagnostic cases.
  • One of the smallest ultrasound transducers is so small that it can fit into a blood vessel.
  • The gel used during an ultrasound is to enable a tighter bond between the skin and the transducer, thus giving a more accurate reading.
  • There is such a thing as a 5-Dimensional ultrasound! It was invented by a group at John Hopkins University and integrated with computer surgical systems in conjunction with 3D ultrasound machines. It was patented by Dr. Russell Taylor in 2011.
  • Ultrasound screenings are supported by 90% of cardiologists, neurologists, and vascular surgeons.

2. The Origin of Ultrasound Machines

  • Though he did not invent it, Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703) noted that it would be possible to study the inside of the body through the use of sound.
  • Ultrasound has been around since 1794, when Italian physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani began studying the way bats navigated in the dark. This understanding became the basis for modern ultrasound physics.
  • What was ultrasound first used for? The first intended use of ultrasound was for another industry—not medicine! In 1928, Sergei Sokolov, a Soviet physicist proposed that ultrasound be used for detecting flaws in metal castings.
  • The first tests using ultrasound technology were conducted in 1826.
  • In the early years of ultrasound usage, patients had to be completely submerged in water in order to get a reading!
  • John J. Wild (1914 – 2009) is credited as being the Father of Medical Ultrasound. He is best known for using ultrasound to diagnose cancer.
  • In 1942, Dr. Karl Dussik first used ultrasound to diagnose brain tumors.
  • The first ultrasound use in cardiology was by Inge Edler and Carl Hertz for measuring heart activity using a device from a ship construction company in 1953.
  • Ian Donald, a Scottish obstetrician, used ultrasound in 1957 to detect abdominal masses, marking the first time it was used in obstetrics and gynecology.
  • In 1957, the Pan Scanner was introduced. It used a rotating transducer that did not require the patient to be fully submerged in water.
  • The first handheld ultrasound scanner was used in the US in 1963.

3. What are Ultrasound Machines Used For? 

  • What else is an ultrasound used for? It can help medical professionals detect a wide range of conditions apart from identifying the cause of pain, swelling, and infection. Plus it can be used to examine damage to an organ, especially after an illness.
  • Ultrasound enjoys widespread use in the field of healthcare as it can help medical practitioners examine multiple internal organs like liver, pancreas, kidneys, heart and blood vessels, spleen, bladder, uterus, thyroid, ovaries, and scrotum, to name just a few!
  • It can also help doctors examine the internal organs of infants like the brain, hips, and spine.
  • Obstetric ultrasound makes it possible to determine the sex of a fetus as early as 18-20 weeks.
  • Other uses for ultrasound technology include detection of gallbladder disease, cysts, tumors, urological conditions, heart problems, and thyroid related issues – to name just a few. Read more about the benefits of ultrasound machines in private practice.

Types of Ultrasound Machine Modes

  • 2D or Standard ultrasound can display flat looking images of the internal organs in fetuses, which helps detect heart defects, kidney ailments, and other potential developmental defects.
  • 3D ultrasound imaging provides live, moving images. This is beneficial for physicians so they can study rhythm to detect heart abnormalities or help detect fetal abnormalities like a cleft lip.
  • 4D ultrasound can show movement of the fetus like the unborn baby kicking its legs or moving its hands. It’s used for non-medical purposes such as creating keepsake videos of the baby, which has gained much popularity in recent years.
  • Doppler ultrasound is a special type of technique or enhanced ultrasound that can help visualize movement of fluids in the body. Therefore, it carries a great significance in detecting abnormalities in blood flow. It can help health practitioners examine the flow of blood through arteries and veins in the body.

What is Doppler ultrasound used for?

Applications of Doppler ultrasound include examining tumors, blockages to blood flow like clots, congenital vascular abnormalities, and narrowing of vessels. In addition, they help doctors evaluate increased, reduced or absent blood flow to various organs. Physicians also use the blood flow information provided by Doppler technique to check the suitability of a candidate for angioplasty, a type of heart procedure[1]. The three types of Doppler ultrasound are Color, Power, and Spectral Doppler:

  • Color Doppler is used to inspect the speed and direction of blood flow through blood vessels.
  • Power Doppler can help doctors visualize blood flow in greater detail. However, its disadvantage is that it cannot help visualize the direction of blood flow.
  • Spectral Doppler can show graphic measurements of blood flow and can also convert and display blood flow information in the form of a distinctive sound!


Additional Uses of Ultrasound Machines

What are some of the other uses of ultrasound machines? Ultrasound is a useful tool as it can even guide surgical procedures such as, biopsies and injections, among others. It can also be used to conduct a needle biopsy, which helps eliminate surgical removal of a tissue sample by allowing doctors to procure sample cells from an abnormal region for testing. It is less invasive than surgery and much less painful too. In addition:

  • It can be used to scan the breasts and guide biopsies for breast cancer.
  • What are some of the uses of ultrasound in cardiology? An echocardiogram – which is an ultrasound of the heart – can help diagnose a range of heart ailments such as, congestive heart failure, valve problems. Ultrasound also helps evaluate the extent of heart damage after a heart attack!
  • What are the uses of ultrasound in therapy? Ultrasound has therapeutic applications as it can help heal damaged tissues, treat serious disorders like pulmonary embolism, heart-related disorders, and more!
  • One of the applications of therapeutic ultrasound is tissue healing – ultrasound can enhance the quality of repair and fasten the healing process of tissues.
  • Veterinarians use ultrasound to detect disorders in animals and guide veterinary procedures too.
  • Additionally, ultrasound technology has applications outside medicine. For instance, it’s used for testing products, welding, and cleaning jewelry, lenses, watches, and surgical instruments.
  • Ultrasonic waves are used in the beauty industry too! Ultrasonic face massagers are great anti-aging tools as these help in increasing oxygen supply and removing dead cells, making the skin firm and smooth. Ultrasound technology is also used in body-slimming devices for removing cellulite.

4. Limitations with Ultrasound Machines

  • Ultrasonic waves cannot pass through bone. Therefore, only the outer bone surface can be examined, not the inside structure. Hence, ultrasound has very limited scope to be applied to the brain as the skull, especially the part enclosing the brain, does not allow ultrasound waves to pass through.
  • Similarly, ultrasound waves are unable to pass through air or gas, so ultrasound is ineffective in viewing air-filled bowel or organs hidden by the bowel.

National Ultrasound for all your Ultrasound Machine Needs

So, the next time you hear the word ‘ultrasound’ don’t be surprised if it is not in reference to a pregnancy. It could be used in relation with several different procedures and includes much more than what one might expect.

Ultrasound machines are ubiquitous in the field of healthcare today. Advances in ultrasound technology have led to ultrasound devices becoming smaller, cheaper, and more portable, while simultaneously improving imaging capabilities. Owing to portable ultrasounds and handheld machines, ultrasound imaging is readily accessible, making point-of-care diagnostics a reality. Ultrasound use in emergency settings and critical care has revolutionized healthcare by saving lives and improving patient satisfaction! Read more about point-of-care ultrasound meaning, applications, and future trends.

Still have questions about the use of ultrasound? Contact us to speak to a National Ultrasound representative today. Our expertly trained staff will answer all your questions and fit you with exactly what you need from our wide range of cutting-edge ultrasound equipment from reputable manufacturers. We would love to hear from you!