If you struggle to see the distinction between sonograms and ultrasounds, you are hardly alone. Most people know there is a difference, but do not know what that difference is. Some people go so far as to use the terms interchangeably. That is why we have decided to provide this overview, in order to settle the sonogram vs ultrasound matter once and for all. After all, if you are expecting, this information is nothing short of essential.
In this article, we will go over both the sonogram and the ultrasound in turn. We will cover their purposes, their mechanisms, and their key differences. By the end, you will have all the information you need to clear up the sonogram vs ultrasound confusion for your own friends, family, and colleagues.
What Is a Sonogram?
Let's begin our discussion of the sonogram vs ultrasound by going over the sonogram.
Simply put, the sonogram is what the ultrasound produces. Whenever you take an ultrasound exam, you receive a number of pictures of your baby at the end. These black and white pictures are what we call sonogram images. They are images created through sound waves.
How Do You Read a Sonogram?
You cannot read an ultrasound, but you can read a sonogram. The images, however, can be difficult to understand. Over time, we have seen these images grow clearer and clearer as ultrasound technology has developed, but there is still a great deal we can improve on.
To read a sonogram, you must keep a few tips in mind.
First and foremost, you need to understand that solid colors and gray colors depict different materials. While solid colors represent hard tissue, gray colors represent soft tissue. Any areas that appear black are those filled with amniotic fluid.
Secondly, when interpreting a sonogram, start off by looking for the most distinct parts of the baby, such as the head, arms, or legs. By identifying key features such as these, it becomes easier to identify and understand the less obvious body parts.
Keep in mind that there are trained professionals who can probably do a far better job of analyzing your sonograms. In fact, the ultrasound technician who handed you your sonograms is one such professional. If you find yourself staring listlessly at your sonograms while scratching your head in confusion, save yourself stress and the risk of misinterpreting them by consulting the medical experts who took your ultrasound. If you ask, they can even clue you in on the baby's gender. This particular matter, though, is usually obvious enough for most people to know at a glance.
What Is an Ultrasound?
Of course, no discussion of the sonogram vs ultrasound would be complete without an explanation of the ultrasound and its uses.
An ultrasound is a relatively simple procedure (also painless and noninvasive) that doctors use to study a growing fetus and track his or her development throughout pregnancy.
If it sounds intimidating, there is nothing to fear. Here is how the procedure works. First, your doctor will ask you to lie flat on your back. He or she will rub a cool gel over your belly, before moving a wand or probe back and forth through the gel. The probe collects data, which is used to generate an image of your baby that is visible via a screen.
The ultrasound probe works by emitting high-frequency sound waves. These sound waves pass through your belly, hit your tissue, and then bounce back to the probe they originated from. The computer analyzes the sound waves that return to the probe and uses them to produce the image, or sonogram.
Why Do We Use Ultrasound?
You may be wondering why we even use ultrasounds. Believe it or not, there is more value to the ultrasound than a pretty picture to put on your fridge.
Via ultrasound, your doctor can regularly check up on your fetus as it develops. He or she can use the images to gather information about the number of fetuses, their size, their gestational ages, and their gender. Your doctor can also compare your fetus to others of the same gestational age to ensure development is carrying on in proper order. On top of all that, with an ultrasound, he or she can assess the fetus' blood circulation. Ultrasounds are also essential for detecting any abnormalities, such as cleft palate.
When Do Pregnant Women Receive Ultrasounds?
Pregnant women can receive ultrasounds at various points throughout pregnancy. The precise schedule will depend on your doctor, but many start as soon as the first pregnancy appointment, which usually occurs at around 8 weeks. Others forego the exam at this point, as it is too early on to see much.
You can use an ultrasound to detect pregnancy as early as the fifth week. At this time, you should be able to see the formation of the amniotic sac and the fetal pole that will eventually become a body.
By the sixth or seventh week of pregnancy, many women can begin to see a heartbeat. If you do not see one by this point, though, there is nothing to worry about.
By week 18 of pregnancy, you will have reached the middle of your pregnancy. This is around the time when your fetus is far enough along in development to produce a detailed ultrasound. In many cases, the fetus may even have visible sex organs, allowing you to figure out his or her sex.
Sometimes, women get an additional ultrasound during their third trimester. Whether or not this will be the case for you, though, is something your doctor will advise on based on your particular situation. The ultrasound exam taken during the third trimester is also known as the biophysical profile (BPP). Doctors use this late pregnancy exam to study the fetus' amniotic fluid levels, movement, and respiration.
Why Would Someone Need to Take a Late Pregnancy Ultrasound Exam?
There are a number of reasons why a doctor may advise a late pregnancy ultrasound exam.
The first reason is that you are having a high-risk pregnancy that requires closer and more frequent examination. While there are many indicators of high risk, the most common ones include age (any age over 35 years is considered advanced, especially if it is the first pregnancy), the condition of the cervix (weak cervical tissue sometimes leads to premature birth), and a history of miscarriage (either in your family or in your own life).
A second viable reason for the late pregnancy ultrasound exam is if you are concerned about fetal movements (or lack thereof). For example, if the number of kicks you feel seems too low, or if the kicks suddenly stop, your doctor may advise a late pregnancy ultrasound. Often, it turns out that there was never any need for concern. It is difficult for a doctor to ascertain that, however, without the exam. Sometimes, a perceived lack of fetal movements can be an indicator of an issue. With an ultrasound, your doctor can figure out what that issue is.
A third reason for a late pregnancy ultrasound exam is if your baby is in a breech position. Most of the time, babies will move into the typical delivery position several weeks before birth. In this position, the head orients itself closer to the birth canal so that upon delivery, the baby leaves the womb head first. Sometimes, though, babies fail to make this maneuver and position themselves the opposite way, with the buttocks and feet positioned to leave the womb first.
The breech position is a cause for concern because it raises the risk that the baby will get stuck in the birth canal. There is also an increased risk of the baby's oxygen supply via umbilical cord being cut off.
A fourth common reason for the late pregnancy ultrasound exam is if the baby is past 40 to 41 weeks of gestation. In such a case, the doctor is likely to advise the exam so he or she can make sure the fetus is healthy.
Are Ultrasound Exams Only for Pregnant Women?
Not at all. Doctors also use ultrasound for patients who are not pregnant. With ultrasound, a doctor can take a look at organs, muscles, blood vessels, heart valves, and more. He or she can also find tumors and assess their severity.
Is Ultrasound Safe?
Many people worry about whether or not ultrasound requires radiation. Ultrasound, however, operates via sound waves, which lack the risks posed by x-rays and are, all in all, harmless.
Ultrasound has been used several decades, and it has had an incredibly promising track record. As long as ultrasound is used under the guidance of a properly trained medical professional, there is little reason to worry.
Sonogram vs Ultrasound: Key Differences
The sonogram vs ultrasound issue is far less complex than many people assume.
The terms are often used interchangeably, which is technically incorrect, even though they are intrinsically related. An ultrasound exam is a procedure that uses sound waves to produce an image of something inside the body. That image is called a sonogram.
So, there you have it. Those are the essentials regarding the sonogram vs ultrasound. Just remember that the ultrasound exam is the procedure by which doctors use sound waves to produce an image. The sonogram is what we call that image. The next time someone brings up the topic of the sonogram vs ultrasound, be sure to let them know what you have learned!