This leaflet is to help you understand the use, accuracy and timing of pelvic ultrasound scan and what questions you should be asking your caregiver.

What is a pelvic ultrasound scan?

A pelvic ultrasound scan is an easy way to look inside your abdomen. It works through sound waves (a bit like sonar or radar). An ultrasound probe connected to an ultrasound machine is placed on/inside the area being examined. Examination can be internal (transvaginal) or external or both. If you are sexually active, an internal scan is preferred but an explanation should be given prior to procedure. The probe emits sound waves which travel through your body and bounce back off any structure they come in contact with. The returning sound waves (or echoes) are read by the machine and translated into a picture on the screen. The waves show the size of the object, how far away it is and how dense it is (i.e. is it fluid, such as blood, or is it solid, such as bones).

Why do I need a pelvic ultrasound scan?

In many cases an ultrasound scan is done to just rule out a problem and offer reassurance. Sometimes an examination may suggest there is a problem. If this is the case, having an ultrasound scan can tell us more about what is wrong and will help plan treatment.

Do I have to have a pelvic ultrasound scan? 

No. This is entirely ‘your choice’. As outlined above, ultrasound is often used to confirm the findings of a physical examination or to rule out a variety of problems. Sometimes the physical examination is enough on its own and no further tests are required.

What if I am pregnant?

This is also fine. Ultrasound is used on a daily basis to examine pregnant women and is entirely safe in this respect. It is always best to limit the time it takes to do the scan. 

How accurate is a pelvic ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound is highly accurate and can provide detailed information in the majority of cases. Ultrasound scans have limitations and sometimes further tests or a repeat scan may be necessary.

When should I have the scan?

Most pelvic ultrasound scans can be undertaken at any stage of your menstrual cycle, including during your period if you are happy for this to be done. Some scans are best performed during specific stages in your cycle and you will be told if this is the case. Scans can be conducted at any time for women with irregular cycles and for those who do not have periods.

How long will it take?

A typical pelvic ultrasound scan takes somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes but could be longer or shorter. The actual time needed will depend on why you are having the scan and what is detected.

What other questions should I ask?

  • If a problem is indicated, what is the degree of certainty?
  • What is the diagnosis or suspicion?
  • If there is nothing apparent, what is the degree of certainty?

Last updated: September 2019