Kids Health Info

Ultrasound

  • An ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves (that the human ear cannot hear) to form images of the inside of the body.

    Ultrasounds are non-invasive, which means nothing goes through the skin.

    The examination is performed by a sonographer (someone who is trained in scanning techniques) and takes about 15–30 minutes.

    Why does my child need an ultrasound?

    Ultrasound scans can be performed on virtually any area of the body. Ultrasounds are performed for many different reasons, including to:

    • see if different organs in the body are healthy (e.g. parts of the stomach or heart)
    • see if muscles or tendons are damaged
    • diagnose and monitor diseases.

    What to expect with an ultrasound

    Before the ultrasound

    It is very important to make sure you follow the preparation instructions on your child’s appointment letter, even if you have had an ultrasound before. The preparation required differs depending on which part of the body is being examined.

    If you have any questions about fasting, drinking fluids, or any other instructions please call the medical centre where your child's appointment is taking place.

    Sometimes it is difficult for a child to lie still for the duration of the ultrasound, so it may be useful to bring a favourite toy, electronic device or book to keep your child occupied.

    During the ultrasound

    A family member or carer is encouraged to stay with the child during their ultrasound. The scan is usually performed with your child lying on a table – sometimes on their back, side or stomach. Your child may need to remove some clothing, depending on the area of their body that is being examined. 

    The sonographer will place the camera (called a transducer) in contact with your child’s skin and move it around to obtain images of different areas. To help the contact between the transducer and the skin, gel is used to help the transducer move smoothly.

    Having an ultrasound does not hurt, but sometimes a little pressure is required to ensure that the transducer is in contact with the skin, and this may be a little uncomfortable. For some pictures, the sonographer might ask your child to hold their breath.

    After the ultrasound

    Your child will be able to go home straight after their ultrasound.

    The sonographer will make a report on the ultrasound, before the images get checked by a radiologist (doctor specialising in reading medical imaging). A final report will then be sent to the referring doctor. In non-urgent cases, it may take a few days for the results to reach the referring doctor. If the situation is urgent, it is possible for the doctor to request the results sooner.

    Key points to remember

    • Ultrasounds are a non-invasive imaging scan that uses sound waves.
    • It is important to always follow the preparation instructions carefully.
    • Having an ultrasound does not hurt, but sometimes the sonographer may need to apply a little pressure with the transducer (camera) and this may be a little uncomfortable.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My child is scared about medical procedures and I am worried he won't stay still for the ultrasound. How can I help?

    Show your child our Be Positive video of a child having an ultrasound scan at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH). It will help him to know what to expect. You can also download our Okee in Medical Imaging app, which includes games and information especially designed to help children feel more comfortable about having medical imaging done at the RCH, and includes fun training on how to keep still. To get some ideas of how to talk to your child about the ultrasound before you come to hospital, see our fact sheet Reducing your child's discomfort during procedures

    How safe are ultrasounds for children?

    Ultrasounds are perfectly safe for children. There is no radiation or pain associated with an ultrasound, though occasionally the sonographer may need to press firmly on the skin, which can be uncomfortable.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Medical Imaging department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.