An ultrasound is an extremely common diagnostic test used for a wide variety of issues. If you are undergoing infertility testing or therapy, you will likely have a number of ultrasounds over the course of your treatment. Though it can seem intimidating, ultrasounds are actually a quick and painless ways of learning a lot about your reproductive health.
What are Ultrasounds?
Similar to an x-ray, an ultrasound allows your doctor to examine parts of your body that are normally not visible. An ultrasound can be used to get a closer look at your abdomen or chest, which will allow medical professionals a clearer view of your vital organs as well as your bodily structure. A pelvic ultrasound can also be performed to get a better picture of your reproductive organs. This type of ultrasound is commonly performed during infertility testing and fertility treatments.
Getting the Image
In order to see just what is inside of you, ultrasounds use high frequency sound waves to create images, which are then relayed back to a television monitor. In order to create ultrasound images, the ultrasound machine produces sounds, which are emitted through a probe or transducer. The sound waves then bounce off your organs and tissues to produce ultrasound pictures that can be viewed on a monitor. You and your health care provider can see these images right away and they will help your fertility specialist know if there is a structural problem impeding your fertility.
While there are a few different types of ultrasounds, abdominal ultrasound and transvaginal ultrasound are those most commonly used during infertility treatments.
The majority of people are familiar with an abdominal ultrasound, also known as a pelvic ultrasound. This form of ultrasound is routinely used during pregnancy to check the health and growth of a baby. For women with infertility problems, though, an abdominal ultrasound can show whether you may have fibroids, cysts, endometriosis or PCOS, as well as check the general health of your reproductive system.
If you are having an abdominal ultrasound, you will need to attend your appointment with a full bladder. Having a full bladder helps to move the bowel away from your uterus and allows the ultrasound technician to get a better image. Unfortunately, having a full bladder can make the procedure a bit uncomfortable, although it should not be painful.
At your appointment, a special ultrasound gel will be applied to your stomach; this will help the transducer move more smoothly over your stomach. The transducer will emit sound waves, which will then produce an image of your uterus on a monitor. If there are issues that could be contributing to your infertility, the ultrasound technician may be able to see them at this time.
A transvaginal ultrasound may be used during your fertility workup to assess the health of your cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries. But this is not the only time that you may need a transvaginal ultrasound. If you are undergoing IVF, IUI, or are receiving hormonal fertility drugs, like clomid, a transvaginal ultrasound may also be performed.
Unlike the abdominal ultrasound, a full bladder is not necessary for this type of ultrasound. During the procedure, the ultrasound probe will be inserted into your vagina. Some liken the feeling to inserting a tampon; it should not feel painful. To create an image, the sound waves produced by the ultrasound equipment will travel along the vagina and bounce off the ovaries. The image relayed back will be of your fallopian tubes, ovaries and egg follicles.
Ultrasound During Treatment
Many infertility treatments and procedures utilize ultrasound, particularly transvaginal ultrasounds. Ultrasound is used to monitor follicular growth, establish when certain procedures, such as retrieval, should be carried out, and to guide your fertility specialist during egg retrieval for IVF.
If you have received fertility drugs to stimulate your egg follicles, ultrasound will be used to keep an eye on the follicular growth and development. Ultrasound can also help to detect whether the fertility medication is causing hyperstimulation syndrome, a potentially life threatening condition in which the hormone therapy over-stimulates the follicles, causing them to grow too much.
If you are to undergo egg retrieval, ultrasound will be used to watch for signs of ovulation in order to time the collection of your eggs. When your eggs are retrieved, your fertility specialist will use ultrasound to get a clear image of your ovaries and guide her in the retrieval process.