sonography and ultrasound differences

Some concepts are tricky: all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads. Asking about the difference between sonography and ultrasound is a little like asking the difference between a carpenter and a hammer. This is because, just as a carpenter uses a hammer to perform a specific job, a sonographer uses ultrasound devices to perform many different jobs. The medical skill is sonography; the tool is ultrasound. 

Sonography—The Science

Sonographers learn the science of sonography, which literally means “sound writing.” Ultrasonography means “extreme sound writing,” because sonographers make pictures using ultrasound, or high-frequency sound. Many words begin with ultra-, and nearly all are fun to say. Ultracrepidarians, for example, are people who criticize or judge beyond their area of expertise; that is, they ultracrepidate (No, really, they do). 

Ultrasonographers learn sonography and ultrasonography so that they can use ultrasound machines to help medical professionals make ultraprecise diagnoses in their ultragrateful patients. They learn ultrasonography at sonography schools. And that was an ultradifficult paragraph to plow through. 

Sound waves are pressure waves. They move energy through air, liquids, and solids by bumping the particles around. In the reverse of what many people think, sound moves faster through solids than through the air. When sound encounters a container of sloshy bits and hard stuff (like skin, organs and bones inside you), the sound waves move at different speeds. The waves also bounce back, as echoes. When ultrasounds (sound waves above human hearing at 20,000 Hertz) are used, their echoes can form pictures when processed by a computer. The pictures are sonograms. 

Ultrasound—The Images

Ultrasound machines generate and receive very high-pitched sound waves, or ultrasounds. The ultracompetent ultrasound technologist uses ultrasound machines to help doctors and other health care professionals “see” inside patients. 

Ultrasound devices today can produce astounding images. Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional pictures are possible, and with a little computer sleight-of-hand, four-dimensional movies can be made. 

In addition, Doppler ultrasound exists. This does not, as you may think, produce weather radar images of the storm front moving across your kidneys. It measures blood flow by—and this is just stunning, or even ultrastunning, that we can do such a thing—bouncing sound waves off moving red blood cells. Doppler ultrasound can diagnose:

  • Bad leg vein valves
  • Blood clots
  • Heart valve problems
  • Blocked arteries
  • Bulging arteries
  • Narrowing arteries

Obstetricians and gynecologists have used 2D ultrasound for decades to examine developing fetuses. While two-dimensional ultrasound is useful, and three-dimensional ultrasound can produce slightly creepy pictures of unborn babies, pictures that resemble stone carvings, four-dimensional ultrasound bring movements into the imaging inventory. The sonographer—excuse us, ultrasonographer, resplendent in cape and magic utility belt—can take many 3D pictures in rapid succession, then assemble them within the computer in a sophisticated flipbook that shows movement. 

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Ultrasound—The Medical Applications

We have already examined in ultraclose detail some of the ultracool ways ultrasound can help cardiologists and obstetricians. Since ultrasound uses no radiation, it can be used for quick diagnosis without the use of X-rays or other radiology. Urologists use ultrasound images (sonograms) to:

  • Discover kidney stones
  • Detect prostate cancer
  • Measure blood flow through kidneys

Other specialists depend on skilled ultrasonographers to provide ultrasound images of breast tissue, abdominal structures and cerebrovascular problems (stroke). 

Ultrasonography—The Career 

sonographer job growthAnyone interested in a rewarding, personally satisfying career centered around helping people should investigate ultrasonography. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows how ultrasmart such a choice could be: 

  • The mean annual wage for sonographers nationwide as of May, 2014 was $68,390
  • Sonographers working in outpatient care centers earned mean annual wages of $72,930
  • California sonographers earned mean annual wages as of May, 2014 of $89,870
  • California sonographers plying their skilled trade in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara major metropolitan area enjoyed mean annual wages in May, 2014 of $113,080

With some 59,000 sonographers already working across the country, you may feel the nation has no room for more. This is not true, says the BLS, which predicts a whopping 46 percent growth in employment through 2022. By contrast, job growth for all occupations on average is 11 percent. 

Want to Become a Sonographer? Listen Up!

You cannot hear ultrasounds. Not even ultrasophisticated ultrasonographers can hear them. But you can hear the sound of opportunity, and it calls to you, resonating inside you and proclaiming, “Become an ultrasonographer, enjoy an amazing career, help people in need, and make a great living!” To tap into this dynamic, high-tech future, you need strong training. Contact ECPI today to learn how you could earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography in as little as 19 months. It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!

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