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How Ultrasound Machines Work

The standard ultrasound machine has a transducer probe that delivers sound waves, a computer that interprets the signal, a display to show the images, transducer controls for adjusting the sound waves, a keyboard, disk storage, and a printer.

The main part of the machine is the transducer probe. It emits and receive sound waves using a method discovered by Jacques and Pierre Curie called the piezoelectric (pressure electricity) effect. The transducer contains a piezoelectric crystal that produces sound when electricity is applied to it. The vibrations of the crystal travel outward from the probe, bounce off structures in its path and return to the transducer. When these return vibrations hit the crystal, it creates an electric current that is processed into images by the computer program and shown onscreen.

To prevent interference, a sound absorbing material is inserted in strategic areas in the transducer and an acoustic lens focuses the outward-bound sound waves. Transducers typically have pulse controls that the technician can use to change the frequency and duration of the sound waves.

Ultrasound technology has a number of medical uses from monitoring the health of a fetus to detecting cancer. Thus, transducers are manufactured in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate different medical needs. How the transducer is shaped affects how much area it can cover. The probe may have more than one crystal to increase its frequency range so it can penetrate deep into bodily tissues.

Transducers have the advantage of being able to move around the body and be inserted into various orifices (vagina, throat, or rectum) to obtain detailed images that help the medical professional diagnose or monitor medical conditions.

Another major part of the ultrasound machine is the CPU (computer). While the transducer produces the sound waves, it is the computer that interprets those waves to create viewable images. These computers contain a microprocessor, amplifiers, memory and storage, and various outlets for the transducer probes and associated peripherals. The computer tells the transducer when to send the sound waves and then collects the raw feedback. After performing complex calculations to process the data, the picture is sent to the screen where the doctor and patient can examine it. The computer can also store those images on a hard drive or portable memory device, or send them to a printer.

The type of software used on the computer determines its capabilities. Some ultrasound machines can produce 3-D and 4-D images as well as use Doppler technology to monitor movement inside the body. If you are in the market for an ultrasound machine, take time to research your options which can help you choose the best one for your office or hospital.