What is diagnostic ultrasound?

Medical Ultrasound is a safe and painless means of examining the body's internal organs whilst avoiding the use of ionising radiation (X-rays).

Instead, with ultrasound, high-frequency sound waves are generated by the Ultrasound scanner and transmitted into the body through an Ultrasound Transducer, where they are scattered and reflected by the internal organs.

Some of these signal echoes are then detected by the transducer and used to create an image, showing the internal body structure, solid and cystic masses, and to generate graphical displays of movement with-in the body, such as, for instance, the velocity of blood with-in blood vessels and the movement of the heart.


What are the reasons for having an ultrasound examination?

Ultrasound has an extensive and ever increasing list of uses, including:

    • Demonstration of the urinary bladder, testes, prostate and kidneys in Urology.
    • Diagnosis of abnormalities of the abdominal organs - (liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen)
    • Investigation of lumps and masses in superficial organs such as the Thyroid.
    • Visualisation of Gynaecological abnormalities and pathology of the female pelvis
    • Demonstration of Musculo-Skeletal abnormalities and injury
    • To identify causes of abnormal blood flow due to vascular disease, obstruction or dilation.

This is in no way an all-inclusive list and limits itself to the types of referrals applicable to the South West Essex Community Ultrasound Service.


What happens during a diagnostic ultrasound?

An Ultrasound examination is a painless procedure that can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the type of examination being performed; but generally around 15 - 20 minutes.

A small amount of lubricating gel is applied to the area to be examined, which helps the ultrasound waves pass through the skin surface. A probe, the Ultrasound Transducer, will be held against the skin and moved over its surface to transmit and receive the Ultrasound signal waves.

Whilst the ultrasound examination scan is being performed, images are displayed on the equipment monitor, where they can be recorded as pictures or as video and measurements can be made.

In some cases, smaller specially designed transducers are available which are inserted in to body cavities for much improved visualisation of surrounding organs. This is particularly so in Gynaecological studies for demonstration of the Uterus, Ovaries and Adnexa.


What preparation is required for an ultrasound examination?

Visualising the internal organs can be difficult due to overlying bowel gas and other structures. It can therefore be essential that suitable preparation is performed by the patient prior to the examination to maximise the benefit of the study, and get the most complete and accurate examination report back to the referring GP.

Full preparation details are available on the Patient Preparation page of this website,

or they can be downloaded and printed on our Patient Preparation Leaflet.


Is Beehive Solutions part of the NHS or are these private scans?

Beehive Solutions is not part of the NHS, however, we have been commissioned by the NHS to undertake Ultrasound examinations on its behalf in some parts of the country. In particular, in respect of this website, Beehive Solutions is contracted to provide Ultrasound examinations for NHS patients referred by GP's located with in the SW Essex region. These scans are performed in Beehive Soutions community clinics (generallt with in GP surgeries) toreduce the pressures of local hosptials and give patients access to rapid and accurate ultrasound diagnosis.

Whilst we do perform Private scans - see details in the Private Patient section of this website - GP referred patients are not charged in anyway.  Other than the actual location in which we perform the scan, there should be no difference between having an Ultrasound scan with Beehive Solutions and a standard NHS scan.


Is Ultrasound entirely safe?

Ultrasound examination is completely safe. In a clinical setting, correctly used by trained professionals, with in the power limits of medical diagnosis, there are no known concerns.

This has been verified by a Safety Statement from the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine

"Diagnostic ultrasound has been in use since the late 1950s. Given its known benefits and recognized efficacy for medical diagnosis, including use during human pregnancy, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine herein addresses the clinical safety of such use:

There are no confirmed biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposures from present diagnostic ultrasound instruments. Although the possibility exists that such biological effects may be identified in the future, current data indicate that the benefits to patients of the prudent use of diagnostic ultrasound outweigh the risks, if any, that may be present."



For more specific information, below is a Safety Statement by the British Medical Ultrasound Society (BMUS)


Prepared by the Safety Group of the British Medical Ultrasound Society.

"Ultrasound is now accepted as being of considerable diagnostic value. There is no evidence that diagnostic ultrasound has produced any harm to patients in the four decades that it has been in use. However, the acoustic output of modern equipment is generally much greater than that of the early equipment and, in view of the continuing progress in equipment design and applications, outputs may be expected to continue to be subject to change. Also, investigations into the possibility of subtle or transient effects are still at an early stage. Consequently diagnostic ultrasound can only be considered safe if used prudently. 

Thermal hazard exists with some diagnostic ultrasound equipment, if used imprudently. A temperature elevation of less than 1·5°C is considered to present no hazard to human or animal tissue, including a human embryo or fetus, even if maintained indefinitely. Temperature elevations in excess of this may cause harm, depending on the time for which they are maintained. A temperature elevation of 4°C, maintained for 5 minutes or more, is considered to be potentially hazardous to a fetus or embryo. Some diagnostic ultrasound equipment, operating in spectral pulsed Doppler mode, can produce temperature rises in excess of 4°C in bone, with an associated risk of high temperatures being produced in adjacent soft tissues by conduction. With some machines colour Doppler imaging modes may also produce high temperature rises, particularly if a deep focus or a narrow colour box is selected. In other modes, temperature elevations in excess of 1°C are possible, but are unlikely to reach 1·5°C with equipment currently in clinical use, except where significant self-heating of the transducer occurs.

Non-thermal damage has been demonstrated in animal tissues containing gas pockets, such as lung and intestine, using diagnostic levels of ultrasound (mechanical index values of 0.3 or more). In view of this, it is recommended that care should be taken to avoid unnecessary exposure of neonatal lung , and to maintain MI as low as possible when this is not possible. In other tissues there is no evidence that diagnostic ultrasound produces non-thermal damage, in the absence of gas-filled contrast agents. However, in view of the difficulty of demonstrating small, localised, regions of damage in vivo, the possibility of this cannot be excluded. The Mechanical Index, if displayed, acts as a guide to the operator. The use of contrast agents in the form of stabilised gas bubbles increases the probability of cavitation. Single beam modes (A-mode, M-mode and spectral pulsed Doppler) have a greater potential for non-thermal hazard than scanned modes (B-mode, Colour Doppler), although the use of a narrow write-zoom box increases this potential for scanning modes."

June 2000 

Reconfirmed by BMUS, March 2012


If you have any concerns in tregard the safety of Ultrasound, please have no heistation in contacting us by telephone or email, or speaking to the Sonographer performing your Ultrasound Examination