Ultrasound for Kids: What is an Ultrasound?

A female technologist gives a girl an ultrasound exam

Parents, would you like help explaining the concept of an ultrasound to your child? This article—dedicated to going over an ultrasound for kids—contains all you will need to know. You can read through this information yourself or read it to your child. Hopefully, it will help calm exam-day nerves for the both of you!

Want to go over a different kind of imaging exam with your child? Check out our other articles: MRI, CT, X-Ray.


Ultrasound for Kids: What is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a way that doctors can quickly see inside of your body without hurting you a bit. The machine uses sounds to take pictures of the inside of your stomach and other body parts. A doctor then can see what is happening inside of you and know how to help you feel better.

An ultrasound machine is a probe about the size of a bar of soap connected to a computer that shows the pictures of your insides. Since ultrasounds use sound, the probe is kind of like the microphone they put on your skin so the computer can listen to your insides and then make a picture based on what it hears.

A radiologist gives a young girl an ultrasound as the girl looks at the monitor

Ultrasounds are extra cool because you get to see the pictures as the probe is taking them!

Why You Might Need an Ultrasound Exam

Sometimes, doctors need to see inside your body to know how to help you. They might use ultrasounds to look at different parts in your tummy or your neck, so they know why you’re not feeling good. Ultrasounds can even show doctors how your insides move!

Before the Exam

When you come in for your ultrasound, you’ll want to wear loose, comfortable clothes. Sometimes, you won’t be able to eat or drink anything before your exam. Other times, you might have to drink lots of water without going to the bathroom. The doctors ask you to do this so that they can get the right pictures to help you.

Say Cheese!

When you’re ready for your exam, you’ll sit or lay down on a table. The person who helps you is usually a technologist. They’re very nice and really smart… they know exactly how to take pictures of the inside of your body with the ultrasound.

The technologist will then put a special gel on your skin to make the pictures really clear. The gel might feel a little weird; it’ll be warm and can feel sticky, but it won’t hurt you.

An ultrasound technologist prepares ultrasound gel for a patient

Once they apply the gel, the technologist will press the probe on your skin where they need to take the pictures. They’ll move the probe around to make sure it hears your insides singing loud and clear! You might feel the probe pressing down in some uncomfortable places, but it won’t stay there for long.

You also might hear some whirring and pulsing sounds during your ultrasound. This is just the machine at work!

After the Exam

Your technologist will let you know when you’re all done, and they’ll wipe away the gel so you’re not sticky. Sometimes, they’ll ask you to wait for a special doctor, called a radiologist, who will look at your pictures before you leave.

Three children draw at a table after they've finished their ultrasound exam

But most of the time, you’re able to leave right away and wait for your doctor to get in touch with your parents. They’ll let you know what’s next: if you’ll need medicine, more ultrasounds, a different type of imaging exam like a CT or MRI, or if everything looks okay!

If you would like more information about an ultrasound for kids, visit this site from the Radiological Society of North America and the American College of Radiology. At UVA Health System, we have specialized pediatric radiologists who understand how to image children, which includes giving an ultrasound for kids. They are specifically trained to read the medical images of infants, children, and teenagers. Learn more about what UVA can offer your family.

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