Sonogram vs. ultrasound: what are they, uses, differences
LAST UPDATED: Sep 14, 2021
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It’s common to hear “sonogram” and “ultrasound” thrown around together. If you’re wondering how they’re different—sonogram vs ultrasound—you’re not alone.
The truth is that “sonogram” and “ultrasound” are closely related terms that both have to do with the same form of medical imaging technology. In many cases, people use them interchangeably. But technically, they’re not quite the same.
Sonogram vs ultrasound: what’s the difference?
Sonography is a form of medical imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the insides of the human body. These images are called sonograms. On the other hand, ultrasound is the name for the high-frequency sound waves that are used to make the sonogram. In other words, ultrasound is the tool used during sonography (NIBIB, 2016).
If that’s confusing, think of a sonogram as a photograph. The ultrasound would be the camera that’s used to take the photograph.
Highly trained healthcare professionals who perform sonography are called sonographers or ultrasound technicians.
The different types of sonography
Sonography is one of the most common types of diagnostic imaging and is often used to look at soft tissues and other non-bony parts of the body (NIBIB, 2016).
In some cases, a sonographer is specially trained to look at specific parts of the body. Some examples include:
Abdominal sonography, which uses ultrasound to look at the abdominal cavities and organs, such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, or pancreas
Breast sonography, which uses ultrasound to examine breast tissues
Cardiac sonography, which uses ultrasound to look at the heart’s tissues, chambers, and valves
Musculoskeletal sonography, which uses ultrasound to look at joints, tendons, and ligaments
Pediatric sonography, which uses ultrasound to image children and infants
Obstetric and gynecologic sonography, which uses ultrasound to look at the ovaries and other parts of the female reproductive system
How does ultrasound technology work?
Ultrasound technology uses high-frequency sound waves to make real-time images (sonograms) of the inside of your body (NIBIB, 2016).
If you’ve ever had an ultrasound, you may remember that it involves a handheld device that looks a lot like a grocery store checkout scanner. That’s called a transducer. It sends out sound waves, and it can also detect the echoes of those sound waves when they bounce (harmlessly) off of tissues and other barriers inside your body.
During an ultrasound procedure, a sonographer (a.k.a., ultrasound technician) will put gel on the part of your body that is going to be imaged. This is to keep any air bubbles or pockets from screwing up the transducer’s reception. As the transducer moves over your skin, the ultrasound equipment will turn the sound waves into images (Kurzweil, 2021).
There are two different types of ultrasound. These are (NIBIB, 2016):
Diagnostic ultrasound: This is a type of ultrasound that medical professionals use to identify problems (or confirm that everything is in good shape).
Functional ultrasound: This type of imaging test is used to create images of processes in your body. For example, medical professionals can use this type to monitor blood flow in your heart or vessels.
What are the common uses of sonography?
Sonography and the ultrasound technology it uses are very common in medical settings. Some of the typical uses for sonography are (NIBIB, 2016):
Fetal imaging during pregnancy
Images of the heart or internal organs
Blood vessel imaging
Some types of brain imaging
Breast or testicle imaging
Abdominal organ imaging
Cyst or tumor imaging
Medical conditions that ultrasound can diagnose
Sonographers can use ultrasound scans to identify a lot of different medical problems or abnormalities. These include (Zimmerman, 2021):
Testicle or prostate issues (Liguori, 2011)
Childhood disorders such as spina bifida
Appendicitis (Hwang, 2018)
Pros and cons of ultrasound imaging
Using ultrasound to make sonographic images is safe, affordable, and simple. It’s also typically a non-invasive procedure, meaning nothing goes inside your body. You usually don’t have to do anything to prepare for an ultrasound, and it creates images of your insides in real-time (SDMS, n.d.; NIBIB, 2016).
But there are some drawbacks. Ultrasound images don’t have the same level of specificity as some other types of medical imaging. Research has found that misdiagnoses can happen when doctors rely solely on ultrasound (Sotiriadis, 2019; Levine, 2001).
Also, the images that ultrasound produces depend on the skill and experience of the ultrasound tech who uses it. This opens up some room for human error (Reddy, 2009).
It’s easy to confuse the terms “sonogram” and “ultrasound.” Even some doctors use them interchangeably. If you want to be precise, just remember that the ultrasound is the technology used to make an image, while the image itself is called a sonogram.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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