Transvaginal Ultrasound

Written by Jaime Herndon | Published on May 22, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Transvaginal Ultrasound?

Ultrasound tests use high-frequency sound waves to allow doctors to see your internal organs. The sound waves bounce off your organs, creating images of their structures. A transvaginal ultrasound is a kind of pelvic ultrasound that is used to see reproductive organs like the uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina.

“Transvaginal” means “through the vagina.” The procedure involves the internal use of an ultrasound wand, rather than simply applying the wand to the outside of the pelvis as done in a regular pelvic ultrasound.

When Is a Transvaginal Ultrasound Performed?

There are many reasons a transvaginal ultrasound might be necessary, including:

  • an abnormal physical exam
  • to check for cysts or fibroids
  • unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • pelvic pain
  • an ectopic pregnancy (which occurs when the fetus begins to develop outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes)
  • infertility

Your doctor might also recommend a transvaginal ultrasound during pregnancy to:

  • monitor the heartbeat of the fetus
  • observe the cervix for any changes that could lead to complications such as miscarriage or premature delivery
  • examine the placenta or find the source of any abnormal bleeding
  • diagnose a possible miscarriage

How Should I Prepare for a Transvaginal Ultrasound?

You will be asked to remove your clothes and put on a gown or cover for the procedure. Depending on your doctor’s instructions and the reasons for the ultrasound, you might need to either have your bladder empty or partially filled. When your bladder is full, it actually lifts the intestines away and allows for a clearer picture of your pelvic organs. You can have this procedure performed during your period or if you’re spotting, but if you are wearing a tampon, you will have to take it out before the ultrasound.

What Happens During a Transvaginal Ultrasound?

You will be instructed to lie down on an examination table with your feet placed in stirrups. The ultrasound wand will be covered with a condom and lubricating gel and inserted into your vagina.

You might feel some pressure from the wand, similar to that of a speculum, the tool used during a Pap smear. Sound waves will bounce off your internal organs and transmit pictures of the inside of your pelvis onto a monitor. The technician or doctor will move the wand a little bit inside you in order to get a comprehensive picture of your organs.

A special type of transvaginal ultrasound is called a saline infusion sonography (SIS). This procedure involves inserting sterile salt water into the uterus before the ultrasound to help identify any possible masses. The saline solution stretches the uterus slightly, providing a more detailed picture of the inside of the uterus than a conventional ultrasound. Although a transvaginal ultrasound can be done on a pregnant woman, SIS cannot.

There are virtually no risks associated with a transvaginal ultrasound. There may be slight discomfort.

What Do the Results Show?

If a doctor performs the ultrasound, you might get the results right away. If an ultrasound technician performs the test, the images are saved on the monitor to be analyzed by a radiologist, who will write up the results to send to your doctor.

A transvaginal ultrasound can help diagnose multiple conditions, including:

  • cancers of the reproductive organs
  • cysts and fibroids
  • infection
  • miscarriage
  • placenta previa (a low-lying placenta during pregnancy that may warrant medical intervention)
  • fetal birth defects

Talk with your doctor about your specific results and what type of treatment, if any, is necessary.

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