April 01, 2021

Ultrasound's rapid advancement

Diagnosis, therapy and more

Scott Young, M.D.

A boy or a girl? Many people are most familiar with ultrasound imaging for the answer it can provide to this question for expectant parents — and interested grandparents. And while you may think of ultrasound as an older technology with limited use, the exact opposite is true. Using ultrasound for diagnostics — and therapy — is on the cutting edge of technological advancement, and uses for ultrasound are constantly being improved and are expanding into new areas.

That's important because ultrasound technology has several key positive features:

  • No radiation is involved, and low energy ultrasound used for diagnostic imaging causes no harm to body tissues or metal implants.
  • Devices are becoming increasingly portable, yet also more sophisticated.
  • It's generally a low-cost technology with increasing capability.
  • It's noninvasive, meaning there's no need to cut or puncture tissues.
  • It uniquely characterizes tissues in ways that other imaging scans can't.

At a basic level, ultrasound devices consist of a transducer — often hand-held — that emits high-frequency sound waves. In the case of diagnostic imaging, the surface of the transducer is placed near the area being imaged. Emitted sound waves bounce off various tissues — such as bone or muscle — at different rates and return to the transducer. The ultrasound device calculates variations in bounce rates...