What You Should Know About Your Testicular (Scrotum) Ultrasound Examination
Your doctor has just requested an examination…of your scrotum using ultrasound. Although you may have heard about ultrasound before, or possibly been examined with ultrasound in the past, you still may have questions about your examination.
The American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, an organization of doctors, sonographers, and scientists, has compiled these questions and answers to explain how ultrasound works.
What Is Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is like ordinary sound except it has a frequency (or pitch) higher than human beings can hear. When sent into the body from an instrument called a transducer placed on a patient’s skin, the sound is reflected off structures inside the body. The returning echoes are received by the transducer and converted into an image of the internal structures on a monitor like a television. These continually changing images can be recorded on film, paper, videotape, or computer. Diagnostic ultrasound imaging is commonly called sonography. In a scrotal examination, ultrasound produces images of the testes, epididymes (ducts behind the testes that hold sperm), and their blood vessels and coverings.
What Is Doppler Ultrasound?
Doppler is a special form of ultrasound used in evaluating blood flow to and from the testes and epididymides. It can be displayed in variable formats: as a sound, as a color picture of the blood vessels, or as a graph showing changes over time in the blood flow speed.
Why Should I Have an Ultrasound Examination?
There are many reasons for examining the scrotum with ultrasound. Among the more common reasons are
* to look for causes of scrotal pain, including epididymo-orchitis (inflammation), testicular torsion (twisted testes), and varicocele (a swelling that feels like a bag of worms and causes a dull pain);
* to look for causes of masses felt by the patient or doctor and assess their nature and site of origin, including testicular cancer, epididymal cysts, or tumors;
* to evaluate the cause of scrotal swelling, such as hydrocele (fluid collection), scrotal hernias, scrotal edema (swelling), inflammation, or infection;
* to evaluate the causes of infertility, such as varicoceles, testicular atrophy, or obstruction of the connecting ducts;
* to evaluate the extent of damage caused by trauma to the scrotum; or
* to look for the location of undescended testes.
Ultrasound may not provide all the information your doctor requires. In these cases, additional studies may be required.
Are There Any Special Preparations for the Examination?
No preparation is necessary.
Will It Hurt?
There is no pain involved in an ultrasound examination of your scrotum. The transducer is placed on the skin surface after a gel is applied to your scrotum to provide better contact. The gel may feel cool and may temporarily leave a mark on your clothes so you may want to wear easily washable clothing.
How Long Will It Take?
The scrotal ultrasound examination takes about 15 minutes but may take longer in more difficult examinations.
Who Will Perform the Examination?
In most cases, a sonographer – a technologist trained in sonography – will examine you. He or she obtains and records a series of images. The doctor then looks at the images and discusses your examination with the sonographer and issues an official interpretation. In some cases, the doctor also will examine you to confirm or resolve uncertain findings or a diagnosis.
Is Ultrasound Safe?
Widespread clinical use of diagnostic ultrasound for many years has revealed no harmful effects. Studies in humans also have revealed no direct link between the use of diagnostic ultrasound and any adverse outcomes. Although the possibility exists that biological effects may be identified in the future, current information indicates that the benefits to patients far outweigh the risks, if any.
What Are the Limitations of the Examination?
Scrotal ultrasound examination limitations are very few, if any. The ultrasound examination quality depends on the frequency of the transducer, on the ultrasound equipment used, and on the examiner’s experience.
How Much Does the Exam Cost?
The price of an ultrasound examination varies depending on the reason for the examination and the complexity of the equipment used. Generally, insurance companies will help cover the cost of ultrasound examinations of the scrotum.
© American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.