Reflection Imaging

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Reflection imaging is a test that bounces high-frequency sound waves off of your internal organs, letting your doctor take pictures of the inside of your body. Reflection imaging doesn’t use radiation like x-rays or CT scans, and can’t take pictures of all body parts.

What is reflection imaging?

Reflection imaging is a procedure that your doctor can use to scan part of your body. Some kinds of imaging, like x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs, use waves that pass through your body to take pictures of your bones and organs. Reflection imaging is similar, but uses waves that bounce off parts of your body to take pictures or make movies of the inside of your body.

What kinds of reflection imaging are there?

Some types of reflection imaging include:

  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves that you can’t hear to look at organs and structures inside of your body. Doctors often use ultrasound to look at a developing baby during pregnancy, and can also use it to look at your heart, kidneys, liver, or other organs.
  • Echocardiogram [ek-oh-KAHR-dee-oh-grams]. This test uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. It can show a clear picture of the heart while it is beating, and also take pictures of the heart valves and other parts of your heart.

Reflection imaging can take better pictures than x-rays, and does not expose you to radiation like an x-ray or CT scan.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

An ultrasound is a safe procedure. Unlike an x-ray or CT scan, there is no exposure to radiation that can cause cancer. There are no known risks or side effects to an ultrasound.

A transthoracic [trans-thor-AS-ik] echocardiogram (TTE) is the most common kind of echocardiogram. During this test, a doctor moves a tool called a transducer (trans-DOO-suhr) over your chest to take pictures of your heart. This test is similar to an ultrasound and has no known risks.

A transesophageal [TRANS- ih-SOF-oh-JEE-uhl] echocardiogram (TEE) is a different procedure that has some more risks, including damage to your esophagus. If you need a TEE, you should talk to your doctor about the risks and side effects.

What are the benefits?

Ultrasounds and echocardiograms can be used to check the health of a fetus and diagnose many diseases, injuries, and other problems in your body. Some of these include:

  • Gallbladder disease
  • Problems with your blood vessels or blood flow
  • Some kinds of cancer
  • Problems with your thyroid gland
  • Conditions in the genitals or prostate.

An ultrasound can also help your doctor guide a needle during another procedure, like a biopsy.

A TTE can diagnose conditions in your heart and monitor problems you already know you have. Some of these include:

  • Heart valves that aren’t normal
  • Heartbeat that isn’t normal
  • Congenital [KAHN-jen-ih-TUHL] (present since you were born) heart disease
  • Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack
  • Heart murmurs
  • Inflammation around the heart
  • Hypertension [HI-pur-TEHN-shun] (high blood pressure)
  • Infection of the heart valves
  • The source of a blood clot

How do I prepare?

Your doctor might have special steps for you to take before this procedure. For instance, if you are having an ultrasound of your bladder, your doctor may ask you to drink water before the test and not use the bathroom until the ultrasound is complete.

If you are having a TEE, you might not be able to eat or drink for several hours before the test. Talk to your doctor about the steps you need to take to get ready for this test.

How is it done or administered?

How is an ultrasound done?

  • You will take off your clothing and any jewelry that you are wearing in the area where your doctor needs to take an ultrasound.
  • Your doctor will spread a gel on the part of the body that they want to scan. This gel helps stop air bubbles that can make it harder to take a good picture of the inside of your body.
  • Your doctor will use a small, hand-held tool called a transducer (trans-DOO-suhr) and move it over your skin. The transducer sends sound waves into your body, and these waves bounce off of the part of your body that the doctor wants to see.

An ultrasound is a safe test that usually takes 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

How is an echocardiogram done?

  • You will take off your clothes from the waist up and lie on an exam table on your back. Sometimes the exam table can be hard and cold. Ask your doctor for a blanket or pillow to make it more comfortable.
  • Your doctor will place electrodes on your chest to monitor your heartbeat.
  • Your doctor will spread a gel on your chest. This gel helps the sound waves go through your chest and onto your heart.
  • Your doctor will move a transducer over your skin. You might feel small amount of pressure on your chest from the transducer, but it will not hurt.
  • Sometimes, your doctor may ask you to breathe a certain way or to roll over onto your side so that they can take a better scan of your heart.

An echocardiogram might take 1-2 hours to complete.

When will I know the results?

After your doctor takes your ultrasound or TTE, they will send the images to a specialist who can analyze the pictures for problems and help diagnose any problems. You might get your results in a few days, but it might take one to two weeks.

Talk to your doctor about how long it will take to receive your test results, and whether you can receive them over the phone or will need to come in for a follow-up appointment.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

If your results are normal, you might not need any follow-up. Some conditions need to be looked at over time even if your doctor doesn’t find any problems. If your doctor finds a problem, condition, or injury, they may schedule more follow-up tests to learn more about your condition, or they might start you on a treatment that will help you get better.

Sometimes, the picture created in the ultrasound or TTE is not clear. If this happens, your doctor might have you come in for another ultrasound, TTE, or a different kind of imaging test like an x-ray or CT scan.