Ultrasound is a diagnostic test that is often done after a physical exam, blood tests and/or radiographs have indicated a possible problem. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to create images of internal structures life the abdominal organs and heart. It can also be used to evaluate smaller structures such as the thyroid glands and tendons.
My pet just had x-rays. Why do we need to do an ultrasound?
Ultrasound is able to give us additional information that we are unable to obtain from traditional x-ray imaging. For example, if the abdomen is full of fluid, the organs cannot be distinguished with x-rays because the fluid and the organs have the same density. However, with ultrasound they appear quite different. Ultrasound is also able to visualize inside of an organ such as the liver or the heart, whereas on x-rays you see the outline of the whole organ.
On the other hand, ultrasound cannot be used to image bones or air-filled structures such as the lungs. Sometimes, gas within the intestinal tract can interfere with ultrasound imaging of other abdominal structures. So ultrasound does not replace radiographs, but complements the information obtained with x-rays. It is common to do both x-rays and ultrasound to get a complete picture.
Is ultrasound imaging painful?
Not at all. In order to perform an ultrasound, the hair must be clipped from the area being evaluated. The pet is then placed in a padded trough (for abdominal ultrasound) in a darkened room. Most patients do not require any sedation for an exam.
What is an ultrasound-guided fine needle aspirate?
This is a procedure used to obtain cells from areas that appear abnormal. Using the ultrasound, a very thin needle is guided into the area of interest to obtain cells. These cells can be placed on a slide and examined microscopically for evidence of cancer, infection or inflammation. The discomfort experienced is expected to be similar to that of a blood draw and is well tolerated by most patients, although sedation may be needed on occasion.
Is this procedure safe?
Ultrasound guided fine needle aspiration is minimally invasive and can often be used to obtain a final diagnosis. It is especially helpful in cases where more invasive procedures, such as an exploratory surgery, are not an option. Although generally safe, potential risks associated with needle biopsy of deep structures can include bleeding or infection. It is a good idea to discuss this procedure with the veterinarian prior to scheduling an ultrasound.
Who should perform my pet’s ultrasound?
The collection and interpretation of ultrasound images is best done by a veterinarian with experience and special training in this imaging modality. Most of the ultrasound exams done at the Animal Clinic in Sussex are performed by Dr. Jennifer Cortright who has been using ultrasound for more than a decade and has completed a 2 year certification program in small animal ultrasound through the University of Illinois. Some examples of diagnoses made at ACS using ultrasound include tumors of the spleen, liver, stomach and thyroid, obstructed ureters, retained testicles, intestinal foreign bodies, and a ruptured Achilles tendon.