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Ultrasound images allow doctors to safely "see" inside a patient without surgery. A transmitter sends very low-energy, high-frequency sound waves into the body, where they bounce off the body's tissues and organs to produce a distinctive pattern of echoes. The same device "hears" the returning echo pattern and forwards it to a computer, which translates the data into an image. Because ultrasound is safe and portable, it has become a first line imaging exam in a many different aspects of patient care. The Ultrasound Section of the Department of Radiology performs a wide variety of ultrasound exams that literally evaluate the body from head to toe.

At Penn, we have the most advanced ultrasound imaging, including 3-D and 4-D technology. Our team is highly experienced in:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
    • Evaluates for abnormalities of the liver, spleen and gallbladder
    • Shows organ size and presence of lesions
      • May need to be supplemented by CT or MR exam
    • Evaluates patients with acute right upper quadrant pain for gallstones or gallbladder inflammation.
  • Genitourinary ultrasound
    • Assesses kidney (renal) size, obstruction and large renal mineral deposits
    • Examines possible abnormalities in scrotum
    • Screens for prostate cancer
  • Gynecologic ultrasound
    • Evaluates pelvic pain and abnormal uterine bleeding
    • Screens for endometrial (uterine) cancer
    • Uses abdominal approach or endovaginal scanning in appropriate patients
    • Can be supplemented by 3-D techniques
  • Obstetric ultrasound
    • Gives expectant parents the first glimpse of their child, usually by two-dimensional (2-D) imaging
    • Diagnoses fetal abnormalities
    • Specialized 3-D and 4-D technology identifies complications in high-risk pregnancies
      • 3-D scans baby’s tissues and organs, better at diagnosing heart problems
      • Doppler technology in 3-D assesses blood flow in organs and placenta
    • 4-D is moving animation of 3-D images, used for diagnosis and to guide invasive procedures if needed
  • Ultrasound elastography
    • New FDA-approved technology for evaluation of diffuse liver diseases such as chronic Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
    • Uses a special pulse of sound waves to measure the stiffness of tissue
      • The hardness or softness of tissue gives the physician information about the state of disease
      • Elastography is a highly accurate test to detect and grade liver fibrosis.
    • Painless procedure that can potentially replace invasive liver biopsies for many patients
  • Ultrasound–guided biopsy
    • Safely guides procedures involving placement of needle or other biopsy device
  • Vascular ultrasound
    • Measures speed of blood flow in arteries and veins without catheter insertion or radiographic dye
    • Determines severity of blockages in major arteries, such as carotid
    • Detects blood clots in patients with symptoms as well as those considered high risk

Head and Neck Applications

Ultrasound offers more detailed anatomic information than what can be seen on CT or MRI scans, especially for organs and structures that lie just below the skin surface. Sonography is able to see small details such as faint calcifications and irregular edges, and for this reason sonography is considered to be the best imaging tool to evaluate small lesions in the thyroid gland. Our ultrasound team has expertise in the diagnosis of thyroid lesions as well as the performance of ultrasound guided biopsy for tissue and advanced genetic testing.

Sonography is also used to assess other organs in the neck, such as the salivary glands and the parathyroid glands, as well as abnormal neck lymph nodes. In addition to being the best test to investigate these small structures, sonography is used to perform thin needle biopsies when an abnormality is found.

ACR Accreditation

We are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR), the national accrediting body for radiology and its sub-specialties.

The ACR gold seal of accreditation represents the highest level of image quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting ACR Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified physicians and medical physicists who are experts in the field. Image quality, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report they can use for continuous practice improvement.

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