What is a vaginal ultrasound?
A vaginal ultrasound is an ultrasound scan taken using a transducer (probe) that is inserted into your vagina. Vaginal ultrasounds are also called ‘internal ultrasounds’ or ‘transvaginal ultrasounds’.
A vaginal ultrasound can be done on its own or with a standard abdominal or pelvic ultrasound. An abdominal or pelvic ultrasound is where the transducer is put on your tummy to look at the organs from the outside.
A vaginal ultrasound can give clearer images of the pelvic organs than a standard abdominal ultrasound.
When may a vaginal ultrasound be recommended during pregnancy?
During early pregnancy, a vaginal ultrasound can:
- confirm you are pregnant, as it can detect the baby’s heartbeat very early in your pregnancy
- show the location and size of the fetus
- show if you are pregnant with one baby or more (such as twins or triplets)
A vaginal ultrasound can be used during early pregnancy to diagnose problems or potential problems, such as:
- to detect an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes)
- work out the reason for any bleeding, and if bleeding may be caused by a miscarriage
A vaginal ultrasound may be recommended midway through your pregnancy to measure the length of your cervix. That’s because having a shorter cervix is associated with an increased risk of premature birth. If you are found to be at increased risk, your doctor may recommend treatment to reduce your risk of early labour.
How is a vaginal ultrasound done?
A vaginal ultrasound can be done in a hospital, clinic or consulting room.
Your dignity and privacy should be protected before, during and after the test. You have the right to stop the test at any point if you feel uncomfortable or want to stop.
Before the test
The test should be explained to you beforehand. You will be asked to give your consent before the test is started. You may be asked to sign a written consent form.
If you are not comfortable having a male perform the test, you can ask for a female sonographer. You can also ask for a female health worker to accompany you for support. Or you can have a friend or family member with you.
You’ll be asked to empty your bladder (pee) before having a vaginal ultrasound. If you’re using a tampon, you’ll need to take it out.
You’ll be asked to take off your clothes from the waist down. You may be given a special gown to wear. The doctor or sonographer should give you privacy to change and provide a sheet to place over your lower body.
You will be asked to lie on an examination table with your knees bent. There might be stirrups, or your hips might be slightly raised.
During the test
The test involves having a transducer (probe) gently inserted into your vagina. The transducer is a special smooth, hand-held device. It’s slightly larger than a tampon. It will be covered by a sheath and warm lubricating gel.
You should be given the choice of inserting the transducer yourself, which is similar to inserting a tampon. Otherwise it can be inserted by the person doing the test. This may be a doctor or specialist sonographer.
The probe will be moved slightly to get clear images. It usually doesn’t hurt, but you will feel pressure and it can be uncomfortable. The test usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes.
What are the benefits of vaginal ultrasounds?
The main benefit of vaginal ultrasounds is that they can give very clear and detailed images. The images are often more detailed than ultrasounds where the probe is used only on your tummy.
Compared with an abdominal ultrasound, a vaginal ultrasound can allow for:
- a more accurate diagnosis
- earlier detection of pregnancy
Are there any risks involved with vaginal ultrasounds?
Vaginal ultrasounds are generally safe for you and your baby.
Vaginal ultrasounds should not be done if:
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 straight away, including driving yourself home if you wish.
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 2 to get the results.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: October 2022