Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies




Ultrasound is a type of scan that uses sound waves to produce images of the inside of your body. It’s used to detect changes in the appearance, size or outline of organs, tissues and vessels, or to detect abnormal masses, such as tumours.

An ultrasound scanner looks a bit like a home computer system. There’s a hard-drive, keyboard and a display screen, and a small hand-held scanner. The scanner has a transducer (a device that changes sound to electricity, like a two-way microphone) – this sends out sound waves. These sound waves bounce off the organs inside your body, and are picked up again by the transducer. The transducer is linked to a computer that generates real-time images from these reflected sound waves. The images are then displayed on the screen. The pictures are constantly updated so the scan can show movement.

An image showing a person having an ultrasound scan


  • Why might I need an ultrasound? Why might I need an ultrasound?

    You can have an ultrasound on different parts of your body, and for many different reasons. You might need one to check for problems inside your body or to check the health of your baby if you’re pregnant. Ultrasound is also a helpful tool to guide your doctor during procedures. 

    An ultrasound of your heart is called an echocardiogram. There’s also a type of ultrasound called a Doppler ultrasound, which can monitor blood flow in your blood vessels. Any change in the pitch or frequency of the sound waves helps to estimate how fast your blood is flowing. This can help detect blood clots or narrowed blood vessels.

    Your scan may be performed by a technician called a sonographer. Sonographers have had special training in taking ultrasound. A radiologist (a doctor who specialises in using imaging methods) may also take your ultrasound.
  • What happens during an ultrasound? What happens during an ultrasound?

    The scan can take anything from five minutes to about half an hour depending on why you’re having it. You might need to wear a gown. The person performing the scan will explain what’s involved. If you’re having a scan of your pelvis or urinary system, you may need to have a full bladder.

    You’ll usually need to lie on your back on a couch. Your sonographer will put some gel on your skin on the area they’re going to examine. The gel allows the sensor to slide easily over your skin and will help to produce clearer pictures. Your sonographer will hold the sensor firmly against your skin and move it over the surface.

    A transvaginal scan is a scan specifically to check for gynaecological problems, and can look at your womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries. If you’re having this type of scan, you’ll need to lie on your back and raise your knees. Your sonographer will then put a slim-line lubricated sensor into your vagina. You can still have this type of scan when you’re on your period. If you’re not happy to have a transvaginal scan, contact the ultrasound department or your doctor to discuss if there are any alternative options. 

    An ultrasound isn’t painful but you might get some slight discomfort if you’re having a transvaginal scan. Remember to tell your sonographer if you have a latex allergy so they use a suitable cover over the sensor.

    After an ultrasound, your sonographer will wipe the gel from your skin but if any is left, it won’t stain your clothing. You can then usually go home when you feel ready.

  • Getting the results Getting the results

    Your sonographer may talk you through the results during or straight after your scan. Or the results may be sent to your doctor who will go through them with you.

  • Bupa On Demand

    Discover how you can access a range of private treatments on a pay-as-you-go basis with Bupa On Demand.

  • Are there any risks? Are there any risks?

    An ultrasound is completely safe because it doesn’t use any radiation. So, unlike scans such as X-rays and CT scans which do use radiation, there aren’t any of the associated risks. And while you might feel some slight discomfort as the sensor is pressed against you, particularly if the area is tender, there aren’t any side-effects.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information


    • Ultrasound scanning – non-obstetric. PatientPlus., reviewed 23 December 2015
    • General ultrasound. Radiological Society of North America., published 23 June 2014
    • Ultrasound scan. Cancer Research UK., reviewed 13 May 2015
    • Transvaginal ultrasound. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists., published 28 February 2015
    • Ultrasound – prostate. Radiological Society of North America., published 12 February 2014

  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Bupa Health Content Team, March 2016.
    Peer reviewed by Dr Daniel Boxer, MRCP (UK), FRCR Consultant Radiologist

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
  • Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.