What is a pelvic ultrasound?

A pelvic ultrasound, also known as pelvic ultrasonography, a pelvic scan or abdominal ultrasound, is a safe and painless diagnostic imaging test used to evaluate the pelvic area for any abnormalities. Your doctor is easily able to view the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes and ovaries during a pelvic ultrasound.

A pelvic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves (too loud to be heard) and a transducer (small probe) to create images inside the pelvic cavity. The transducer emits the sound waves through a layer of gel that is applied to the skin and collects the sounds that bounce back. A computer is able to use those sound waves to make an image of the area being evaluated. An ultrasound machine can collect images of the blood flowing through vessels as well as any movement in your internal organs.

There are two types of pelvic ultrasound used for gynecologic purposes:

  • Transabdominal
  • Transvaginal

Who is a candidate for a pelvic ultrasound?

Your doctor may recommend you have a pelvic ultrasound to evaluate any of your pelvic organs such as your uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes or bladder. You may also need a pelvic ultrasound to evaluate your baby’s development during pregnancy — also called a fetal ultrasound.

A pelvic ultrasound may also be used to:

  • Help diagnose the cause of pelvic pain, severe or abnormal vaginal bleeding, or other problems with menstruation
  • Identify ovarian cyst or uterine fibroids
  • Evaluate your pelvic region for signs of ovarian or uterine cancer
  • Evaluate the endometrium and ovaries - transvaginal ultrasound

What are the risks of a pelvic ultrasound?

Although a pelvic ultrasound is generally a very safe procedure, complications can occur based on the type of pelvic ultrasound you are having.

  • Transvaginal ultrasound
    If you are having a transvaginal ultrasound, you may experience discomfort while the transducer is being inserted into the vagina. Also, if you are allergic to latex or plastic, you may have an allergic reaction to the sheath around the pelvic transducer.
  • Transabdominal ultrasound
    You may experience mild discomfort from lying on an exam table or from having a full bladder. If the pelvic ultrasound is needed in an emergency situation, you may also need a catheter insured.

If you are obese, have internal gas, do not have a full bladder or you have barium in the intestines from a recent barium procedure, your test may be interrupted or rescheduled so your doctor can get the clearest images possible.

What to expect during a pelvic ultrasound?

What to expect during a pelvic ultrasound will differ based on if you are having a transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound.

  • Transabdominal ultrasound
    You will be positioned on a table either on your back or on your side. Your sonographer or radiologist will apply a gel to the abdomen. The gel is used to help the transducer produce the highest quality images.

    The transducer is then placed on the body and moved over the area being evaluated. This process will be continued in various areas until all the necessary images are collected. Once this is complete, the gel is wiped off your skin.


  • Transvaginal ultrasound
    In preparation for a transvaginal ultrasound, you will empty your bladder and then lie on an exam table on your back with your feet in stirrups. Once in position, a transducer probe with a gel-covered latex sheath will be inserted into the vagina. The transducer will emit sound waves to collect images in different locations of the uterus and ovaries.

Recovery from a pelvic ultrasound

Your doctor will typically give you the results of your ultrasound during the test, and if all is normal, you can return to your normal activities. Your doctor may give you special instructions based on the findings of the ultrasound.

Find a specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you