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Sonogram vs. Ultrasound: What's the Difference?

Sonogram vs. Ultrasound: What's the Difference?

Ever wonder what the difference between a sonogram vs ultrasound is? We broke it down for you here.

Written By

Nicole Kainz

Instructor
July 13, 2022

Are you pregnant and anxiously awaiting to see that first image of your little one? Maybe you will even get to bring home the very first picture of your baby! 

This is such an exciting time, but what is the imaging tool used to take these images? 

You have likely heard sonogram and ultrasound used interchangeably. While they are both connected, they are different. Keep reading to learn the difference between a sonogram and an ultrasound, and finally, understand when to use each term.

What Is an Ultrasound?

The first clinical use of an ultrasound was in 1956. Ultrasounds started becoming popular for pregnancy during the 1980s. An ultrasound is a diagnostic tool that is used to view your baby during pregnancy. This exam is painless and non-invasive and is used at different points in pregnancy. 

An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures to see organs, blood vessels, soft tissue, and blood flow within the body. Unlike other diagnostic tools, it does not use radiation, so it is a very common exam used in pregnancy. 

Your OB/GYN may also have a small, portable ultrasound that can be used for quick peeks but is usually not used for true diagnostics. 

What Is a Sonogram

If ultrasound is the camera that takes the images, the sonogram is the picture. When you take that cute little black and white picture home, you are taking home a sonogram image. 

Sonograms can be hard to interpret, so ask the sonographer—another name for an ultrasound tech—or the doctor if you are unsure what you are looking at. They will be able to explain what you are seeing. So you can show off your new addition to your family.

How Does an Ultrasound Work?

An ultrasound consists of a computer, a monitor, and a transducer. A transducer is a handheld wand that is connected to the computer by a cable. 

Special crystals are inside the transducer. These crystals generate and receive the ultrasounds used to create the images. These sound waves are not able to be heard by the human ear. 

When the transducer is held against the body, these waves can pass through your skin into your body. Those waves bounce off your organs and tissue back to the transducer, creating an echo. 

The computer takes those echoes and shows organs and tissue’s position, shape, and structure on the screen. The images—sonograms—can be saved and printed.

What Are the Different Types of Ultrasounds?

We usually think of ultrasounds on the abdomen. This is one type of ultrasound, but there are other ways to use the ultrasound machine. If your doctor schedules an ultrasound, you can just ask them what type you will be getting, so you are not surprised when you get into the room. 

Here are some different types of ultrasound you may experience.

Transabdominal

The type of ultrasound we usually see on television is called transabdominal ultrasound. For this ultrasound, the ultrasound tech will put a special lubricating gel on your belly. The tech will then take a transducer and move it slowly from the side. 

This type of ultrasound is not invasive at all. You may feel a little cold from the gel. There may be slight pressure from the transducer, but overall, it is a painless procedure. 

When you make your ultrasound appointment, make sure to ask whether or not you need a full bladder. Some scans require you to drink eight ounces of water before the ultrasound to have clearer images.

Transabdominal ultrasounds can show the health of the baby. It can also show the health of your uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. 

Transvaginal

A transvaginal ultrasound uses the same technology, but the transducer is specially made to go in through the vagina. This scan can be a little more uncomfortable than the transabdominal. 

Your sonographer will use lubricating gel on the transducer and insert it into the vagina. You may feel slight pressure as they move the transducer around to get the images required. 

Transvaginal ultrasounds are used to see more detail in a smaller area. They can be used to show the health of women’s reproductive organs. 

Sometimes, transabdominal ultrasounds are used first to get a bigger picture, and transvaginal ultrasound is used if more detail is needed. Other times, a transvaginal ultrasound is what is ordered first. It greatly depends on what the doctor needs to see. 

Other Organs

There are other types of ultrasounds besides those used for reproductive health and fetal monitoring. An echocardiogram is used to look at the heart. Transabdominal ultrasounds can also be used to look at the liver, spleen, and bladder. There is also an ultrasound that can scan the breast. 

Why Are Ultrasounds Used?

Ultrasounds are often used to monitor the health of the different reproductive organs in women. Because ultrasounds are generally safe and cost-effective, they are used to help monitor the health of babies in the womb. They are also often used to detect reasons for infertility. 

During Fertility 

If you have been trying to get pregnant for over a year and are less than 35, your doctor may schedule you for an ultrasound. If you are older than 35, they may recommend one at six months of trying. If you are 40 or older, they may order one as soon as you tell them you are trying to conceive. 

During a fertility ultrasound, the sonographer will measure and take a picture of the lining of the uterus and ovaries. They will also look for any abnormalities like fibroids or ovarian cysts and document those. They will be able to see the follicles on the ovaries to detect ovulation.

During Pregnancy

If your pregnancy is not high risk, you will most likely have two ultrasounds. The first ultrasound is taken in the first trimester to confirm pregnancy. This scan may also be used to verify your due date. 

During this scan, the sonographer will look for the baby’s heartbeat. They will also measure the baby from crown to rump. You will also find out if you have more than one baby during this ultrasound.

The second scan is usually between 18 and 22 weeks. This ultrasound is called an anatomy scan. 

During this ultrasound, the ultrasound tech will measure your baby from crown to rump again. They will also measure other areas like the head size and around the middle. They will be able to capture images of the heart, kidneys, brain, spine, and stomach.

At this ultrasound, you can find out if you have a boy or a girl if they are not shy.

Non-Pregnancy Related

Ultrasounds are also used in other organs besides the reproductive organs of a woman and a growing baby. They can be used for both men and women. 

Ultrasounds can be used for the heart, liver, spleen, bladder, and breast. Ultrasounds help to detect the overall health of organs and tissues. Bladder stones, enlarged or inflamed organs, and fatty liver disease can all be diagnosed through ultrasound. 

Are Ultrasounds Safe?

Ultrasounds are considered to be safe during pregnancy for both the mother and the fetus. Ultrasounds have been used during pregnancy since the 1980s. They will look for issues with the placenta, amniotic fluid and see the baby’s position. 

Seeing any abnormalities can help keep both the baby and mom safer during pregnancy and delivery. 

Use Expectful for a Calmer Pregnancy & Birth

Conclusion

If you have been confused on what it means when someone says ultrasound or sonogram, and whether or not they are interchangeable, now you know! 

Ultrasounds have been used for decades and are considered safe for both mother and baby. Ultrasounds can show the health of the female reproductive organs and the health of a growing baby in the womb. They can also be used to find and diagnose fertility issues. 

Expectful is here for you, whether you are just finding out you’re pregnant or hoping to be soon. Our goal is to bring you tools that help make your journey into motherhood a smooth one, full of support. 

Nicole Kainz
Instructor
Perinatal Writer

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