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Vaginal ultrasound

3-minute read

A vaginal ultrasound is an ultrasound scan taken by a probe inserted into the vagina. It gives a clear picture of the fetus, cervix and placenta. It is also called an internal ultrasound or a transvaginal ultrasound.

What does a vaginal ultrasound test for?

A vaginal ultrasound lets the doctor or ultrasound technologist (sonographer) see and measure the fetus. You might even discover if you are pregnant with twins or triplets.

It also allows the doctor or sonographer to look at your vagina, placenta, cervix, fallopian tubes, uterus and ovaries.

A vaginal ultrasound can be used as well as, or instead of, the standard abdominal ultrasound in which the probe is put on your belly.

Why is a vaginal ultrasound recommended?

A vaginal ultrasound will be recommended when your doctor or midwife wants a clearer diagnostic image than the one they can get through a standard abdominal ultrasound.

When is it used during pregnancy?

A vaginal ultrasound can confirm you are pregnant as it can detect the heartbeat very early in your pregnancy. It can also record the location and size of the fetus and determine if you are pregnant with 1 baby or more.

A vaginal ultrasound can also be used to diagnose problems or potential problems, including to:

  • detect an ectopic pregnancy
  • measure the cervix to determine the risk of a premature birth, which will allow any necessary interventions
  • detect abnormalities in the placenta or cervix
  • to determine the source of any bleeding

How is a vaginal ultrasound done?

A vaginal ultrasound is done by your doctor or sonographer in a hospital, clinic or consulting room. It uses a probe that is slightly wider than your finger. 

You’ll probably be asked to empty your bladder (pee) before the ultrasound starts. If you’re using a tampon, you’ll need to take it out.

You’ll be asked to take off the lower half of your clothing and lie back on the examination table with your knees bent. There might be stirrups, or your hips might be slightly raised. 

The probe is covered by a sheath, which is then covered in lubricating gel. It will be inserted slowly for about 5 to 8cm into your vagina. That usually doesn’t hurt, but you will feel pressure and it can be uncomfortable.

The probe will be moved around to get the best view of what is being examined. The examination usually takes 15 to 30 minutes.

If you are not comfortable having a male perform the examination, you can ask for a female sonographer. You can also ask for a female health worker to accompany you for support, or have a family member with you. 

If you live in Western Australia, you must give written consent to a vaginal ultrasound. 

When will I get the results?

Often you can see the ultrasound images on a monitor while you have your scan. If your specialist is there, they might discuss the results with you straight away. 

If a specialist isn’t there, the sonographer is usually not allowed to discuss what they see with you. Your doctor or midwife will see the images after they have been processed. It usually takes a day or two to get the results.

Are there any risks involved?

Vaginal ultrasounds are safe for you and your baby, as long as your waters haven’t broken.

If you are allergic to latex, let the sonographer know so they can use a latex-free sheath on the probe.

There are no after-effects of the procedure, so you can get back to your normal activities, including driving yourself home if you wish. 

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Last reviewed: June 2020

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