What is a chest ultrasound?
A chest ultrasound is an imaging test. It uses sound waves to look at the structures
and organs in your chest. It can help your healthcare provider see how well your lungs
and heart are working.
A chest ultrasound can look at these areas:
Food pipe (esophagus)
Mid-chest area (mediastinum)
The space between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space)
Other structures in the chest
Your healthcare provider may also use ultrasound to see how blood flows through the
organs in your chest.
The provider uses a small, handheld device (probe or transducer) to make the images
of your chest. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your organs and
other structures. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer
then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of your organs.
Your provider can add another device called a Doppler probe to the transducer. This
probe lets your provider hear the sound waves the transducer sends out. They can hear
how fast blood is flowing through a blood vessel. The provider can also hear in which
direction it is flowing. No sound or a faint sound may mean that you have a blockage
in the flow.
Ultrasound is safe to have during pregnancy. It does not use radiation. It is also
safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because it does not use dye.
Why might I need a chest ultrasound?
You may need a chest ultrasound if your healthcare provider thinks you have extra
fluid in your chest. This is especially true if the amount of fluid is small. The
ultrasound can tell your provider if the fluid may be caused by:
Cancer, an infection, or an inflammation (exudate)
Leaking from blood or lymph vessels (transudate)
A chest ultrasound can also be used to:
Look at your heart and its valves. When used for this purpose, the test is called
Guide a needle to take a sample of tissue (biopsy)
Guide a needle to remove fluids from the chest (thoracentesis)
See how well your diaphragm moves
See if you have fluid building up in the lung
See if you have areas of the lung that are more dense than others. This will help
find out if you have an infection, lung collapse, or other condition.
Chest ultrasound may be used along with other types of imaging tests to diagnose chest
conditions. These other tests include CT scans, X-rays, and MRI.
Your provider may have other reasons to advise a chest ultrasound.
What are the risks of a chest ultrasound?
A chest ultrasound has no risk from radiation. Most people have no discomfort from
the transducer moving across the skin.
You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Talk with your provider
about any concerns you have before the test.
Certain things can make a chest ultrasound less accurate. These include:
How do I get ready for a chest ultrasound?
Your healthcare provider will explain the test to you. Ask them any questions you
have about the test.
You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read
the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
You usually do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. Also, you likely
will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
Wear clothing that you can easily take off. Or wear clothing that lets the radiologist
reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test does not stain clothing.
But you may want to wear older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from
your skin afterward.
Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.
What happens during a chest ultrasound?
You may have a chest ultrasound as an outpatient. This means you go home the same
day. Or it may be done as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done
may vary. It will depend on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.
Generally, a chest ultrasound follows this process:
You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may get in
the way of the scan.
If you are asked to remove clothing, you will be given a gown to wear.
You will lie on the exam table, either on your back or side. Or you will sit with
your arms raised and your hands clasped behind your neck. Your position on the table
depends on the area that the radiologist needs to look at.
The technologist will put a clear gel on your skin over the area to be looked at.
The technologist will press the transducer against the skin and move it over the area
You may be asked to shift positions so that the technologist can see other areas.
You also may be asked to cough or sniff during the test. This will let the technologist
see how certain structures in your chest move.
If blood flow is being looked at, you may hear a "whoosh, whoosh" sound when the Doppler
probe is used.
Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.
A chest ultrasound is not painful. But you may have some discomfort from having to
stay still during the test. The gel will also feel cool and wet. The technologist
will use all possible comfort measures. They will do the scan as quickly as possible
to minimize any discomfort.
What happens after a chest ultrasound?
You don't need any special care after a chest ultrasound. Your healthcare provider
may give you other instructions depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure, make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure