Why did my healthcare provider order a chest ultrasound?

November 22, 2023 – 13 min read

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Your healthcare provider recommended a chest ultrasound because it provides very insightful imaging results for certain health concerns.

We know you might feel a little nervous if you’ve never had a chest ultrasound, but there’s nothing to worry about. As we’ll see, an ultrasound is a routine scan that won’t likely cause you any pain or discomfort.

Let’s take a closer look at what a chest ultrasound is like, at why your provider has chosen an ultrasound scan, and at how you can prepare for your ultrasound.

What is a chest ultrasound?

A chest ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging technique that employs high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the structures within your chest. 

An ultrasound machine sends tiny, harmless sound waves into your body, which bounce back after hitting structures like chest organs and tissues. The returning sound waves are then translated into images by a computer, which can be analyzed by healthcare professionals to gain insights into your physical condition. 

A chest ultrasound can provide a detailed view of the heart, lungs, and other structures within the chest, assisting in pinpointing any abnormalities or issues that might be present.

How does a chest ultrasound differ from other diagnostic scans?

A chest ultrasound is different because it uses sound waves to create images, rather than radiation or other means. 

Ultrasounds also offer real-time imaging, which means a technologist can see inside your body in real-time, giving your healthcare provider the crucial information they need to care for you.

Why would a healthcare provider choose ultrasound over other imaging methods?

Ultrasounds are especially good at imaging soft tissues and fluid-filled structures. When a detailed view of the organs like the heart and lungs is required, a chest ultrasound might be the pick of the bunch! 

Often, an ultrasound is a good choice for individuals for whom radiation exposure is a concern, as ultrasounds don’t use radiation. 

In some instances, your provider might want to study your body’s internal structures in real time, and ultrasounds give them a live view inside your body.

Chest ultrasounds for cardiac care

Understanding the full state of your heart’s health is crucial for both you and your provider.

With potential heart conditions ranging from subtle to severe, chest ultrasounds serve as an invaluable tool, offering a clear window into the heart’s intricate dynamics. 

Let’s delve deeper into one of the most critical applications of chest ultrasounds: cardiac care.

How does a chest ultrasound evaluate heart structures and functions?

When the ultrasound probe (sometimes called a transducer) glides across your chest, it sends out sound waves that echo back upon hitting heart tissues. 

These echoes are then converted into images which allow healthcare professionals to visually explore the heart’s chambers, walls, and valves. 

This shows them how your blood is flowing, how well your heart valves are working, and if your heart is working effectively, all to ensure a thorough assessment of your heart.

How do ultrasounds identify congenital heart defects?

A congenital heart defect is a heart issue that someone inherits at birth. If your provider suspects you were born with a congenital heart defect, then an ultrasound is an ideal scan.

That’s because an ultrasound can show your healthcare provider the intricate details of your heart, helping them identify any possible heart defects, like holes between heart chambers or issues with the vessels. 

For infants and children, a provider may recommend a specific type of chest ultrasound, known as a pediatric echocardiogram.

How do ultrasounds detect abnormalities in heart valves?

During the scan, sound waves will move gently through your chest, creating images that showcase the valves in extraordinary detail. 

Healthcare providers can witness the heart’s valves as they open and close with each heartbeat, examining their structure and function in real-time. 

This perspective helps identify issues like valve stenosis (where valves are narrowed) and regurgitation (where valves leak), providing key insights that your provider can use to make a treatment plan.

Ultrasounds that show abnormalities in the chest

Ultrasounds play a pivotal role in illuminating the heart’s health, but they also help identify potential concerns with other vital organs protected within the chest’s expanse. 

You might feel anxious about the unknown, especially when the question of potential abnormalities comes up. 

Let’s look closer into what the ultrasound can detect, uncover, and identify. 

How do ultrasounds detect tumors or growths in the chest?

To see tumors or other growths, the ultrasound sends sound waves into the body, and those waves bounce back when they meet different structures inside–like organs.

Tumors often send back different echo patterns than surrounding healthy tissues, providing a detailed image that allows healthcare professionals to spot them. 

If something looks suspicious, then your ultrasound also guides your provider’s decisions about the next steps in your management and care.

What are benign and malignant growths? Do they show up on an ultrasound?

Benign growths are non-cancerous and generally pose less harm, while malignant growths are cancerous and could potentially pave the way for more serious health concerns. 

Ultrasounds can show the shape, texture, and size of growths, and they can also help determine benign or malignant tumors. For instance, benign tumors may have smoother, well-defined edges, while malignant ones may look less defined. 

While ultrasounds provide valuable initial insights, your provider will likely recommend additional studies to determine the nature of a growth.

How do ultrasounds identify fluid around the heart or lungs?

Taking a closer look, ultrasounds also serve as a vital tool in identifying fluid that may have accumulated around the heart (a condition known as pericardial effusion) or the lungs (known as pleural effusion). 

The sound waves from the ultrasound penetrate a patient’s chest, and echo differently when they encounter fluids, as opposed to tissues or air. 

Your healthcare provider uses this to visualize any unusual accumulations of fluid, to understand their extent, and (as necessary) to create a plan for treatment.

How does an ultrasound help with chest trauma or injury?

When delicately navigating through the aftermath of an injury, healthcare providers utilize ultrasound images to assess potential damage to structures within the chest, including organs, blood vessels, and tissues. 

In particular, ultrasounds are great at helping to identify signs of internal bleeding, organ damage, or other complications that may not be immediately evident. This quick, on-the-spot assessment is invaluable in ensuring that the steps taken post-injury are informed and timely, keeping patient safety and recovery at the forefront.

Monitoring your treatment and recovery

Ultrasounds not only chart your health progress, but they also help your provider assess the best medical interventions to support your treatment and recovery. 

Your healthcare provider will study your ultrasound results, over time, to better understand your progress. That way, your provider can make any necessary adjustments to your care.

Let’s take a look at how and why your provider might use your ultrasounds to monitor your healthcare.

How do ultrasounds track the progress of my treatment?

By performing ultrasounds at different points along the treatment journey, healthcare providers can compare these snapshots, observing any changes or trends. If the growth is shrinking, it’s a hopeful sign that the treatment is effective. Conversely, if there are undesirable changes, this might signal a need to adjust the treatment plan.

This gentle, non-invasive peek inside helps your team steer your treatment plan accurately, ensuring it is always tuned to your body’s unique needs and responses. An ultrasound is a reassuring check on how things are progressing, offering you peace of mind and an informed path forward.

How does ultrasound help in post-operative monitoring?

Following a surgery, it’s vital to keep a vigilant watch on the operated area to ensure it’s healing as anticipated and to swiftly catch any potential complications, like internal bleeding or unusual fluid accumulation

Ultrasound offers a non-invasive means to do this, allowing for thorough checks without the need for additional studies, thus providing a calm, seamless, and comfortable monitoring method during the delicate post-operative period.

Why are ultrasounds preferred for periodic check-ups in certain cases?

If your health requires frequent or prolonged monitoring, ultrasounds safeguard against exposure to radiation, ensuring that patients, particularly those who are more vulnerable like children or pregnant women, can be routinely monitored without added risks. 

Additionally, ultrasounds provide clear, real-time imaging, allowing for timely interventions, and ensuring that your care and recovery is on an optimal path.

Preparing for your chest ultrasound

It always helps to know what to expect from your healthcare, so that on the day of your scan, you’ll be able to enjoy a worry-free experience.

In this section, we’ll guide you on how to get ready for your chest ultrasound, ensuring you’re as prepared as can be for the experience ahead. 

Your peace of mind is paramount, and knowing what to expect will make the day of your scan go more smoothly.

What should I do to get ready for a chest ultrasound?

Make sure to follow any specific instructions your healthcare provider gives you. Generally, you may be asked to avoid applying any lotions, creams, or powders on your chest area on the day of the scan since these could interfere with the image quality. 

What clothing is best for an ultrasound?

Choosing the right attire for your chest ultrasound is like selecting a simple, comfortable outfit for a relaxed day at home. Opt for a loose-fitting, two-piece outfit. 

The idea is to feel comfortable while also providing easy accessibility for clear imaging during the ultrasound.

Since the ultrasound technologist will need easy access to your chest area, wearing a top that can be easily removed or pulled up is practical. Sometimes, you might be provided with a gown to change into, for access and privacy during the scan.

Are there any dietary restrictions? Should I take my medication like normal?

For most chest ultrasounds, you can eat, drink, and take your medications as usual unless instructed otherwise by your provider. 

Be sure to discuss your current medications with your healthcare provider, including any over-the-counter supplements you are taking. 

In certain instances, you may be provided with specific guidelines concerning your food or fluid intake, or adjustments to your medications, particularly if the ultrasound is intended to view structures that can be affected by food and liquids.

What can I expect during and after the ultrasound study?

During the scan, you’ll be asked to lie down, and a special gel will be applied to your chest to help the sound waves travel and create clear images. This gel will feel a little bit cool on your skin.

Your technologist will then glide a handheld device across your chest, which sends and receives the sound waves to create images on a screen. This scan is painless, and typically takes about 30-45 minutes. 

Afterward, you will be able to resume your day as normal. A detailed follow-up usually occurs at a subsequent appointment, when your provider will discuss your results and the next steps.

How to schedule an ultrasound appointment with Us

Reach out to us at American Health Imaging, and we’ll help you schedule an appointment at an imaging center near you, today. 

We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Frequently asked questions

What exactly is a chest ultrasound and why might my healthcare provider order one?

 A chest ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging method that uses sound waves to create images of the structures inside your chest, and providers order this scan to examine organs, tissues, and vessels, often for diagnosing or monitoring conditions.

Providers might choose chest ultrasounds over other diagnostic scans because they don’t expose patients to radiation and can provide real-time, detailed images, especially of soft tissues.

Chest ultrasounds, particularly echocardiograms, provide detailed images of heart structures and function, helping healthcare providers assess its overall health and identify any abnormalities or defects.

Yes, a chest ultrasound can help identify and distinguish between benign and malignant tumors by analyzing their appearance, structure, and blood flow.

Chest ultrasounds can non-invasively visualize chest structures over time, enabling healthcare providers to assess the development or regression of a condition and gauge the effectiveness of treatments.

Preparing for a chest ultrasound typically involves wearing loose, comfortable clothing and may include specific dietary or medication instructions to ensure clear, accurate images.

Ultrasounds help identify fluid around the heart or lungs by providing real-time images, which allow healthcare providers to see and measure any unusual accumulations or abnormalities.

Yes, chest ultrasounds serve as a crucial tool in post-operative monitoring by providing real-time, non-invasive imaging, which helps in observing healing, detecting complications, and ensuring that structures are functioning as expected without using harmful radiation.