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Ultrasound scan of the pelvis (gynaecological)

Patient information A-Z

This leaflet provides information for patients having a pelvic ultrasound scan. The scan will provide images of the uterus, ovaries and surrounding tissues. It is sometimes known as a gynaecological ultrasound scan.

What is an ultrasound scan?

An ultrasound scan uses high frequency sound waves (above the audible range) to acquire images of structures within the body.

To perform the ultrasound scan we put ultrasound gel over the area to be scanned and a small plastic probe (transducer) is slowly moved over the area of interest. This probe transmits high frequency sound waves into your body. Based on the reflections of these sound waves, the ultrasound machine then creates images of your organs. Ultrasound imaging is considered to be very safe as it does not use any radiation to acquire the image.

The scan may identify the cause of your symptoms or help to rule out conditions that could cause your symptoms.

Ultrasound scans are performed by sonographers and radiologists (practitioners). Both female and male practitioners undertake these scans and act as chaperones. Please let us know before your appointment if you wish to be scanned by female staff as we may need to rebook your appointment to facilitate this.

Before your ultrasound scan

It is very important that your bladder is full at the time of the scan. Please drink at least two pints of water around one hour prior to your appointment and refrain from emptying your bladder. Having a full bladder will create a 'window' through which your pelvic organs can be visualised. If your bladder is not full enough, you might be asked to wait and fill your bladder further, or your appointment may need to be rescheduled.

During your ultrasound scan

The light will be dimmed in the room so the practitioner can see the screen better. You will be asked to lie down on the couch and lower your clothes to expose the lower part of your abdomen. You will be given a paper towel to be tucked into the top part of your underwear (to protect your clothes from the ultrasound gel). Gel is applied to your skin; this may feel cold. The transducer is then moved on the surface of your skin. Some pressure may be applied to improve the quality of the images. This may be a slightly uncomfortable. The procedure usually takes around two to ten minutes. During this time, the practitioner will take routine pictures and measurements.

You may be asked some questions relating to your symptoms; for example, menstrual cycle, medications and previous medical history. At the end of this scan, you will be given paper towels to wipe off the gel.

You may then be offered a transvaginal (internal) ultrasound scan to provide more information.

Having a transvaginal (internal) ultrasound scan

The purpose of performing a transvaginal ultrasound scan is to obtain more detailed images or to improve image quality so that a diagnosis can be made. Transvaginal ultrasound scans can be performed during pregnancy or menstruation. If you have never been sexually active, we would normally not perform this type of scan, so it is important that you tell us about this.

Before this scan, the practitioner will explain the procedure and you will then be asked to give verbal consent.

To prepare for the transvaginal ultrasound scan you will be asked to go to the toilet to empty your bladder. (If you have a tampon or menstrual cup it should be removed at this point.)

In order to provide support to the patients and fulfil safeguarding requirements, it is a hospital policy to have a chaperone present for these examinations.

Once you have emptied your bladder, you will be asked to remove your underwear and will be instructed on how to position yourself on the couch. The practitioner will step behind the curtain while you get ready. A sheet will be provided to place across your lap (to give you as much dignity as possible).

Once you are ready, an ultrasound probe which is of similar size to a tampon will be gently inserted into your vagina. The probe will be cleaned and covered with a plastic cover prior to the examination to reduce the risk of infection. Sterile gel will also be put onto the probe to aid insertion. This may feel cold.

The probe will then be moved around slowly to acquire the images and take measurements. Sometimes we apply pressure with the probe or ask you to press on the top of your tummy to improve image quality or to assess movement of the organs. This may be a bit uncomfortable.

After the practitioner has taken the necessary images, the probe will be removed and you can dress.

After your scan

After your scan, you can return to your normal daily activities.

The practitioner may be able to provide information about the findings; however, results will be sent back to the clinician who referred you for the scan in approximately seven to ten days.


Ultrasound scans do not use radiation and are considered to be a safe non-invasive procedure which can provide clinicians with information to aid diagnosis of a wide range of conditions.


‘’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 time that it has been in regular clinical practice” (British Medical Ultrasound Society 2021).

There is a very low risk of infection from the use of ultrasound gel. This can be reduced by wiping the gel off thoroughly at the end of the scan and washing it off as soon as is practical.

Alternative types of imaging available

  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • hysteroscopy (in some cases)
  • laparoscopy (in some cases)

Contacts/ further information

Ultrasound Department: 01223 216455

References/ sources of evidence

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Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151