During a pelvic ultrasound, the doctor, nurse, or medical professional moves a hand-held device, called a transducer, gently over your lower belly. The transducer sends reflected sound waves to a computer, which converts them to a picture of your organs. Ultrasound can "see" solid and fluid-filled organs, but not bones or air-filled intestines. You will be asked to drink water before the exam to get a good ultrasound picture. Sometimes, your doctor will recommend a transvaginal ultrasound exam, where a thin transducer is placed inside the vagina, following the initial pelvic ultrasound. The most common reason for doing a pelvic ultrasound is abnormal bleeding or spotting between periods or following menopause. I had my pelvic ultrasound in my forties, as did many of my friends, but your doctor may recommend a pelvic ultrasound at any age. Pelvic ultrasounds can detect uterine cysts, tumors, fibroids, kidney stones, pelvic inflammation, an ectopic pregnancy, and it can also determine the thickness of the uterine lining.
1. Don't drink too much water
Generally, the instructions before an ultrasound are to drink 32 ounces of water an hour before the ultrasound exam. I felt very bloated half way through drinking the 32 ounces of water, but I finished drinking them anyway. I spent the next hour or so waddling like a duck, afraid any step I took, would release some urine from my bladder. In the exam room, my doctor started the procedure and then stopped. "I can't see anything, you have too much liquid in your bladder, go to the restroom and release some, but not all of your urine," she said. After that the procedure went well, although I still wonder to this day if I damaged my bladder by super extending it.
What to do
Don't drink a lot of coffee or other fluids on the day of the exam - it may add up. Try and drink the recommended 32 ounces of water, but when you feel uncomfortable or pain, go to the bathroom and release some, but not all of the urine. All women are different and the 32 ounces may not be appropriate for every woman. Some imaging clinics ask you to only drink one or two glasses of water. It is important that you drink a sufficient amount of water, because the full bladder will push the intestines out of the way, so that your uterus and other organs can be imaged.
2. Don't wear tight clothing
The pelvic ultrasound exam usually requires you to disrobe from the waist down. When you have a full bladder, struggling with tight jeans may be disastrous. In some cases, you will only have to disrobe for the second part of the exam, the transvaginal ultrasound.
What to do
Wear loose pants or skirts that you can easily slip off without activating your bladder.
3. Don't schedule an exam late in your cycle
During the menstrual cycle hormones fluctuate and cause changes in the ovaries, uterus lining, and your body's ability to hold water. Near the end of the cycle, the pelvis retains more fluid and the lining of the uterus thickens, which will make it difficult to distinguish normal from abnormal changes. This also holds true for post-menopausal women on hormone therapy.
What to do
Schedule a pelvic ultrasound for the first 10 days of your menstrual cycle for optimal results.
4. Don't have an x-ray with contrast material before your ultrasound
If you had an x-ray with contrast material in the last two days before the pelvic ultrasound, it may interfere with the exam.
What to do
Delay your pelvic ultrasound if you had an x-ray with contrast material, such as barium, in the last two days. Mention any other recent tests to your doctor, if you think it might interfere with the ultrasound exam.