Ultrasound Imaging | Diagnostic and Medical Imaging

Ultrasound Imaging

We offer the latest ultrasound imaging technology to diagnose a range of conditions safely and accurately. You may obtain your ultrasound exam at convenient imaging locations throughout the Sacramento region.

Medically reviewed by John McGahan, M.D. on April 01, 2024.

Ultrasound technician using an ultrasound wand on pregnant woman’s belly while she’s laying down.

Advanced Ultrasound Imaging for a Clear Diagnosis

At UC Davis Health, you’ll find state-of-the-art ultrasound imaging and the expertise of a skilled team. Ultrasound is considered very safe, even for a fetus, as it uses no radiation.

Diagnostic radiologists (imaging specialists) and experienced ultrasound technologists work together to perform and interpret your scans. In fact, we require all of our technologists to maintain certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

In addition, our imaging facilities are accredited for ultrasound through the American College of Radiology (ACR). ACR designation means we meet the highest standards for patient safety and quality.

On this page

What Is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a type of imaging exam that uses sound waves to make detailed pictures of structures inside your body. Ultrasounds are noninvasive, meaning they don’t require any cuts or needle sticks in your skin. Ultrasound is also called sonography.

We often use ultrasounds to diagnose problems with soft tissues or blood vessels. Ultrasound imaging can also help treat certain conditions and guide procedures for better accuracy.

Unlike some other types of imaging exams, such as X-rays and CT scans, ultrasound does not produce ionizing radiation. The test is very safe and is preferred for some people, such as pregnant women, to reduce radiation exposure.

As the Sacramento region’s only academic health center, UC Davis Health’s Department of Radiology is home to top radiologists. They work alongside experts in primary care and other specialties including orthopedics, cardiology, hepatology, obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) and others. Our collaborative approach ensures you receive the right imaging test or treatment for your needs and the most accurate results possible. 


Types of Ultrasound

There are many types of ultrasounds that may be used for monitoring, diagnosis and treatment. The most common include:

Pregnancy Ultrasound

A pregnancy ultrasound (prenatal ultrasound) allows us to check the health of your baby while it is developing in your womb. The test helps us detect problems, such as birth defects, and the growth and well-being of your unborn baby. Most women start having pregnancy ultrasounds in the first trimester of their pregnancy.

Diagnostic Ultrasound

We use diagnostic ultrasounds to evaluate problems in organs, soft tissues and blood vessels. For example, a vascular ultrasound helps us diagnose conditions such as blood clots or carotid artery disease. Ultrasound may be used to evaluate the male and female reproductive organs. It also may be used to diagnose disease in other areas of your body such as your thyroid, liver or kidneys.

Ultrasound-Guided Procedures

Ultrasound can also help us treat certain conditions with enhanced precision and accuracy. We may use ultrasound to guide a needle if we need to take a sample of fluid for a biopsy. Other ultrasound-guided procedures include draining fluid from your body or giving injections of medicine.

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What To Expect During Your Ultrasound Exam

An ultrasound is a quick, usually painless procedure done in a hospital or one of our outpatient clinics. For most ultrasounds, you won’t need any kind of sedation. If you’re having an ultrasound as part of a biopsy or treatment procedure, your care team will let you know what to expect.

  • Female patient sitting on a clinic table talking to a female health care provider.

    Before Your Ultrasound

    Many ultrasound exams don’t require any special preparation. However, you may need to fast (not eat or drink) for four to six hours before an abdominal ultrasound. Fasting minimizes gas and improves ultrasound image quality. If you’re having an ultrasound of your urinary tract, you may need to drink water before your exam. A full bladder helps us check the function or your urinary organs.

  • Smiling pregnant woman getting an ultrasound on her stomach.

    During Your Ultrasound

    We apply a water-based ultrasound gel to your skin over the area to be examined. The gel helps the ultrasound probe, or transducer, make good contact with your skin and produce the best possible images. The transducer gives off sound waves that bounce off organs in your body. The sounds waves that bounce back (echoes) are sent to a computer that creates detailed images of your organs. You will not actually be able to hear these sound waves as they create the image.

  • Young boy sitting in a chair getting an ultrasound on his forearm by a female technician.

    After Your Ultrasound

    Most people don’t need any recovery time after their ultrasound exam and can return to their normal activities. Some people have mild skin irritation from ultrasound gel, but this isn’t common. Tell your provider if you experience any pain or other side effects after your exam.

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Ranked among the nation’s best hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best hospital in cancer, cardiology, heart & vascular surgery, diabetes & endocrinology, ENT, geriatrics, neurology & neurosurgery, obstetrics & gynecology, and pulmonology & lung surgery.

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Ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best children’s hospital in diabetes & endocrinology, nephrology, and orthopedics*. (*Together with Shriners Children’s)

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Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital by U.S. News, and high-performing in COPD, colon cancer surgery, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, hip fracture, hip replacement, kidney failure, leukemia, lymphoma & myeloma, lung cancer surgery, ovarian cancer surgery, pneumonia, prostate cancer surgery, stroke, TAVR, uterine cancer surgery, gastroenterology & GI surgery, and orthopedics.

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The nation’s highest nursing honor

UC Davis Medical Center has received Magnet® recognition, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence.

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“Most Wired” for acute care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

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“Most Wired” for ambulatory care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

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World-class cancer care

One of ~56 U.S. cancer centers designated “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute.

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A leader in health care equality

For the 13th consecutive year, UC Davis Medical Center has been recognized as an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader by the educational arm of America’s largest civil rights organization.

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