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Medical Imaging: Types of Sonography

December 15, 2021  |  Category: Sonography

An ultrasound technologist scans a patient.


Sonography, also known as ultrasound, is one of the most widely used forms of diagnostic healthcare imaging. Sonography plays an important role in the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of a broad range of medical conditions.

Sonography is made possible by high-frequency sound waves that bounce off tissue and organs in the body and generate electrical signals. These signals are then sent to a computer that translates them into images.

Educational programs — such as AdventHealth University’s Bachelor of Science in Imaging Sciences Online — teach sonographers the research behind advanced imaging technologies, including the specialized uses of sonography, and prepare them for career advancement.

What Is Sonography?

Sonography and ultrasound are terms used to describe a diagnostic technique that healthcare professionals use to see the body’s inner workings. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography reports that the use of ultrasound is the second-most widely used diagnostic imaging procedure, behind X-rays.

Unlike X-rays and Computed Tomography (CT) scans, ultrasound procedures do not expose patients to radiation. And unlike Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), they don’t rely on magnets that can preclude their use for patients who have metal in their bodies.

Sonography is frequently used over other types of imaging procedures because the technology is:

  • Portable
  • Safe
  • Noninvasive

Sonography uses sound waves that are inaudible to humans, but vary in number and speed according to the density of the object they collide with. That variance in sound waves helps produce images that show differences between denser and harder body tissues. These types of tissues, for example, return more sound waves that will result in brighter spots in an ultrasound image.

To measure the difference in sound waves, ultrasound technologists use a device called a transducer. The transducer produces the high-frequency waves that cause echoes. In modern diagnostic ultrasound procedures, these echoes generate electrical signals that a computer translates to produce crisp visual images.

Healthcare professionals can evaluate these images to diagnose illness, measure growth, and treat medical conditions. The following are among the types of sonography.

  • Bone sonography — Evaluates bone density
  • Doppler ultrasound — Measures blood flow in the heart and blood vessels
  • Elastography — Finds tumors among healthy tissue
  • High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) — Eliminates or modifies abnormal tissue
  • Therapeutic ultrasound — Heats or breaks up tissue

How Does a Sonographer Perform an Ultrasound Procedure?

Diagnostic medical sonographers are medical professionals who operate imaging equipment and conduct diagnostic sonography exams using ultrasound machines. During the procedure, the sonographer applies a gel to the patient’s skin, which acts as a conductive medium by reducing air space between the patient’s skin and the ultrasound transducer. Sometimes the sonographer uses a transducer that can be inserted into the body to produce more targeted images.

The echoes from the sound waves hit the transducer and generate electrical signals that are sent to the ultrasound scanner, which are converted into a visible image that demonstrates the size, shape, and density of anatomy inside the body. A radiologist then interprets the sonographic study.

Types of Ultrasound Procedures

A physician may order an ultrasound if a patient is experiencing pain, swelling, or other symptoms that call for an internal view of the organs. Medical professionals also often use diagnostic sonography to monitor fetal growth.

Sonography can assist in evaluating the health of the abdomen, heart, eyes, and vascular and musculoskeletal systems. Following are some common uses of diagnostic ultrasound exams.

Ultrasound in Breast Screening

An ultrasound procedure often accompanies mammography, particularly for women with dense tissue or implants, or those who breastfeed. Sonography can provide a clearer picture of masses, help detect cysts, and guide biopsies.

Ultrasound in Gynecology

Medical professionals often use ultrasound tools to identify gynecological conditions and infertility issues. They can capture images that show conditions such as:

  • Abscesses
  • Endometriosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pelvic masses

Ultrasound in Heart Disease

Ultrasound can help healthcare professionals find areas of concern in the body and help prevent heart-related issues such as stroke and high blood pressure. Sonograms help identify heart damage, defects, or other cardiac tissue abnormalities. The use of ultrasound procedures can help show the presence of plaque, an indicator of coronary artery disease.

Ultrasound for Musculoskeletal Injuries

Soft tissue injuries can be investigated and clarified through use of sonography imaging, which can show nerve damage, tumors, or injuries in areas such as a knee or hip. Physicians also can evaluate the movement of tendons in the hand and wrist to diagnose and treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

Ultrasound in Pregnancy

Ultrasound exams can aid in monitoring the development of a fetus and can help in guarding against problems related to a high-risk pregnancy, including premature delivery. By using sonography, physicians can determine the possibility of multiple births, the positioning of the baby, and the estimated delivery date. Three-dimensional images or video may show the baby’s movements.

Ultrasound in Prostate Cancer

Medical professionals often rely on an ultrasound to assist them in accurately collecting a tissue sample or biopsy. These tests, typically conducted along with others to evaluate levels of prostate-specific antigen, can help in identifying and treating prostate cancer.

Take the Next Step in Your Sonography Career

If you’re interested in a career in sonography, explore AdventHealth University’s Bachelor of Science in Imaging Sciences Online. The program offers credentialed sonographers the opportunity to study in a Sonography Track that focuses on advanced techniques and research methods and familiarizes students with the various types of sonographic procedures.

You’ll learn from industry leaders, enjoy a flexible schedule with plenty of support resources, and advance through a curriculum that is designed to give you a competitive edge.

Discover how the Bachelor of Science in Imaging Sciences Online program can help you meet your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

How to Become a Radiology Director

Radiologic Technologist vs. Ultrasound Technologist: Roles and Responsibilities

Types of Medical Imaging: Technologies and Career Options


American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Sonography Student Tips

Conquest Imaging, “The History of Ultrasounds: From Bats to Babies”

Healthline, Sonogram vs. Ultrasound

Healthline, Ultrasound

OB-GYN Women’s Centre, Types of Ultrasounds

Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Understanding Sonography

Tesla Scans & Healthcare, “What Is Sonography? What Is the Difference Between Sonography and Ultrasound?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists

U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Ultrasound Imaging