Here's everything you need to know about how ultrasounds work

When we think of ultrasounds, most of us think of pregnancy. But this noninvasive imaging tool is also used to diagnose other health issues for people who get their periods — like misplaced IUD's, polyps and ovarian cysts.

Video Transcript

NADYA OKAMOTO: Hello, and welcome to "Hack the Cycle." I'm your host, Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of August, the lifestyle period brand.

We all might be aware of ultrasounds from movies or TV shows. But not everybody knows that sonograms can actually be helpful for a lot more things besides pregnancy, whether that be looking at a misplaced IUD or searching for uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts. Today I'm going to meet with obstetric sonographer Natalie Scharon to find out just what an ultrasound can do.




NATALIE SCHARON: I'm Natalie. Nice to meet you.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Nice to meet you. I have so many questions about ultrasounds.

NATALIE SCHARON: How about getting your own ultrasound to figure out exactly what ultrasound is?

NADYA OKAMOTO: I am super, super down for that.

NATALIE SCHARON: Let's get started.


NATALIE SCHARON: It's going to be on top of your stomach. OK, you're just going to feel a little bit of pressure, and--


NATALIE SCHARON: No. Right on top of your pelvic. Are you ready to get your ultrasound?

NADYA OKAMOTO: Yes, I'm actually very excited. I was told that it's best to need to go to the bathroom.

NATALIE SCHARON: Yeah, so I do need your full bladder.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Yeah, I have a full bladder.

NATALIE SCHARON: All right. So just unbuckle your pants. Lower your jeans just a little bit. Yup, that's perfect. So I'm just going to tuck this in your undies.


NATALIE SCHARON: Legs straight.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Is the gel cold?

NATALIE SCHARON: Today, I warmed the gel. So you're good.


NATALIE SCHARON: No cold gel here. I know. Sometimes it's like--

NADYA OKAMOTO: Really cold.

NATALIE SCHARON: --in the movie, always cold. And like, women are like so scared. The reason why we use gel is because without this, we're not able to see anything. So like this is your uterus. Fluid is black. See that black? That's your bladder. So if your bladder was not full, I wouldn't be able to see your uterus, like I mentioned.

NADYA OKAMOTO: So that's my coffee.


NADYA OKAMOTO: How did you get into this field?

NATALIE SCHARON: Being able to help women and, like, educate them. So I wanted to help women that had irregular periods, had painful periods, had bleeding after sex. So that's why I did it. And it's the best job ever.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Can you walk me through what a usual appointment would look like?

NATALIE SCHARON: You would come in with a full bladder, of course. I will look at your uterus, your endometrium, your ovaries, make sure everything looks good. Send all your images out to a radiologist, and send a report, and send it off to your OB-GYN.

NADYA OKAMOTO: What are the big misconceptions that you hear?

NATALIE SCHARON: Oh, well, as soon as I put the probe, they're like, I'm not pregnant, I swear. You're not here for that, you know?


We're making sure your, you know, your IUD's in place, you have an IUD. And then that's when I start to educate them.

NADYA OKAMOTO: What else can you see on an ultrasound?

NATALIE SCHARON: We are able to determine if you have any ovarian cysts, fibroids, any endometrial polyps, also ovarian cancer. We check for your IUD. So we want to make sure your IUD is always in place, which should always be inside your endometrium.


NATALIE SCHARON: This bright line--


NATALIE SCHARON: --is your endometrium, in the--

NADYA OKAMOTO: Wait, which part is the endometrium?

NATALIE SCHARON: This bright, bright, bright, bright, bright line. Let's say your ID would be misplaced. It would be any area inside that myometrium, which is the muscle of the uterus. That's what you do not want.

NADYA OKAMOTO: You can be completely honest with me. Looking at my ultrasound, is there anything you're like, ooh, you should get this checked out?

NATALIE SCHARON: Your uterus looks completely normal to me. But-- uterus looks good.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Can I have a photo of my uterus?

NATALIE SCHARON: Sure. Of course. I'll print that out just right now for you.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Ooh! A Polaroid could never--


NADYA OKAMOTO: Thank you so much for this. I have a bunch more questions, so would you be down to sit down and have a little chat?

NATALIE SCHARON: Absolutely. Let's do it.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Thank you so much for my first ever sonogram.


NADYA OKAMOTO: I think I've gotten ultrasounds before because of a IUD. And how does it actually work?

NATALIE SCHARON: The ultrasound, it's ultrasound waves. So as you saw with the probe I was using, that's pretty much entering waves into your body that bounces back into the machine, which creates your image.

NADYA OKAMOTO: And is there any risks with ultrasounds?

NATALIE SCHARON: No. No, no risk at all.

NADYA OKAMOTO: What kind of symptoms would someone be having that would have their doctor recommend a sonogram?

NATALIE SCHARON: Well, you can have irregular periods, heavy cramps.

NADYA OKAMOTO: For placing an IUD, is it required that doctors use some sort of ultrasound?

NATALIE SCHARON: So it's not required, but I highly recommend due to the fact that we're able to visualize how far the IUD is getting in your uterus. So I highly recommend.

NADYA OKAMOTO: If the IUD isn't placed correctly, does it affect how effective it is, or is it just really uncomfortable?

NATALIE SCHARON: Both. It can be really uncomfortable. It could bleed.

NADYA OKAMOTO: In an ideal world, you would like to see, every time an IUD is placed, for an ultrasound to also be performed to just check placement?

NATALIE SCHARON: I recommend at least getting an ultrasound once a year, always making sure it's in place.

NADYA OKAMOTO: Thank you so much for sitting down with me, answering all my questions, and for my ultrasound picture.

NATALIE SCHARON: Uterus looked beautiful.




NATALIE SCHARON: Thank you. Thank you for coming.