What to Say to ER for Ultrasound: A Clear and Confident Guide

Navigating the healthcare landscape can be daunting, particularly when it comes to emergency medical situations.

One such scenario that is often shrouded in mystery is the use of ultrasound imaging in a 24-hour emergency room setting.

In this blog post, we’ll demystify the subject, making it more accessible and less intimidating for everyone, from first-time moms to those experiencing sudden abdominal pain.

You should read this article because understanding what happens in an emergency situation is crucial for effective communication and can even impact the quality of care received.

Understanding Ultrasound: A Brief Overview

Ultrasounds, also known as sonography, involve the use of high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the body.

This ultrasound technology has become an integral part of modern medicine, providing insights into a wide array of conditions without the need for invasive procedures.

From diagnosing gallbladder issues to monitoring fetal growth during pregnancy, ultrasounds provide doctors and nurses with critical information to guide their treatment decisions.

When to Go to the ER for an Ultrasound

Knowing when to visit the emergency room for an ultrasound can be tricky. For pregnant women, severe abdominal pain, bleeding, or complications detected through a home pregnancy test may warrant an immediate visit.

On the other hand, if you are experiencing severe abdominal pain unrelated to pregnancy, an ultrasound in the ER can help identify problems such as gallstones, aortic aneurysms, or kidney issues.

Always consult with a healthcare professional or your physician providing your medical care  if you’re unsure.

The Role of Ultrasound Imaging in Emergency Departments

In emergency scenarios, ultrasounds are a vital diagnostic tool. As a non-invasive procedure, they let you see what’s going on inside the body in real-time, aiding in immediate diagnosis and treatment.

The quick, accurate results they provide are especially crucial in emergency situations where every second counts..

Emergency department (ED) physicians use bedside ultrasonography to evaluate patients with acute medical conditions, trauma, and other emergencies related to men’s and women’s health.

Bedside ultrasonography has several advantages over traditional diagnostic methods, such as X-rays and CT scans.

It is non-invasive, quick, and can be performed at the patient’s bedside. Additionally, it does not expose the patient to harmful ionizing radiation, making it a safer option for pregnant patients and children.

In the ER, ultrasound is commonly used for the following applications:

  • Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST) examination to evaluate for intra-abdominal bleeding in trauma patients
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening to detect life-threatening aneurysms ( abdominal ultrasound)
  • Echocardiography to evaluate cardiac function and identify pericardial effusions or other cardiac abnormalities
  • Pregnancy to confirm intrauterine pregnancy and evaluate for ectopic pregnancy or demise of the fetus
  • Hepatobiliary ultrasound to evaluate for gallstones, cholecystitis, or other liver and biliary tract abnormalities
  • Renal ultrasound to evaluate for hydronephrosis, renal calculi, or other renal abnormalities

In addition to these applications, bedside ultrasonography can also be used to guide invasive procedures, such as central line placement and thoracentesis.

Overall, ultrasound has revolutionized emergency medicine by providing rapid and accurate diagnostic information that can guide clinical decision-making and improve patient outcomes.

Ultrasound Use for Pregnancy Issues

One of the most common uses of ultrasound imaging services in the ER is to address pregnancy issues. For instance, ultrasounds can help diagnose ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages in the first trimester.

They can also monitor fetal development and detect any potential complications. Remember, however, an ER ultrasound should not replace prenatal care with your family doctor or obstetrician.

Things to Consider Before Getting an Ultrasound in the ER

Before you get an ultrasound in the ER, there are a few things to consider. First, understand that ERs, including 24-hour facilities, can often have long wait times due to the unpredictable nature of emergencies.

Second, consider the cost, as emergency care can be expensive, especially without insurance.

Lastly, remember that while ultrasounds are generally safe, they should only be used when medically necessary, under the guidance of a physician providing medical care.

24 Hour ER vs Regular Hospital: What’s the Difference?

A 24-hour emergency room is a freestanding emergency medical care facility that operates around the clock, similar to a hospital’s emergency department.

Both can perform ultrasounds and have board-certified doctors on staff.

However, if the facility is a freestanding emergency room , the fee may be higher than a regular hospital, and they may not be part of your health benefit plan provider network.

How Ultrasound Imaging Works: The Science Behind It

Ultrasound imaging works by sending high-frequency sound waves into the body using a device called a transducer.

These sound waves bounce off structures inside the body, such as organs and tissues, creating echoes that are then converted into images.

This allows physicians to image different parts of the body, including soft tissues that can’t be seen with X-rays.

What to Expect During an Ultrasound in the ER

When you get an ultrasound in the ER, a technician will apply a special gel to the area being examined and move the transducer over it.

The process is generally painless and can take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on what needs to be examined.

In some cases, such as ectopic pregnancies or certain gallbladder issues, a transvaginal ultrasound might be used for a more detailed view.

The Technician’s Role in Ultrasound Imaging

The ultrasound technician plays a crucial role in the imaging process.

They operate the ultrasound machine, guide the transducer, capture the images, and ensure patient comfort throughout the process.

They work in tandem with the ER physicians, providing them with the necessary images for diagnosis and treatment to confirm if everything is ok .

So, What to Say to Get an Ultrasound in ER?

Getting an ultrasound at the emergency room typically isn’t about saying the right things, but rather clearly communicating your symptoms and health concerns.

Here is what you might need to say or discuss:

  1. Describe Your Symptoms: Clearly and honestly describe the symptoms you are experiencing that led you to the emergency room. For example, if you’re experiencing severe abdominal pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath, these are critical details your healthcare provider needs to know.
  2. Mention Relevant Medical History: If you have a relevant medical history, such as kidney stones, gallbladder issues, or a history of ectopic pregnancies, be sure to mention it.
  3. Discuss Your Concerns: If you have specific concerns that lead you to believe an ultrasound may be necessary, communicate them. This could be a change in a known condition, something you feel isn’t normal, or an intense pain you’ve never felt before.
  4. Pregnancy Status: If you’re pregnant, be sure to tell the ER staff immediately. This is important because some symptoms may indicate a complication in your pregnancy.
  5. Prior Imaging Results: If you’ve had previous ultrasounds or other imaging done for the same or a similar issue, mention this to the staff. This could help them decide if another ultrasound is necessary.
  6. Ask for an Ultrasound: If you believe an ultrasound could be beneficial to diagnose your symptoms, ask for one. For example, you might say, “Could an ultrasound help determine why I’m in pain?”

Remember, healthcare professionals will assess your symptoms and medical history to determine the appropriate diagnostic tests, which may or may not include an ultrasound.

Always be open and honest about your symptoms and concerns to help guide the healthcare provider’s decisions.

Insurance and Ultrasound

When it comes to getting an ultrasound, one of the first questions that may come to mind is whether or not insurance will cover the cost of a facility or a physician providing the service.

The answer to this question can vary depending on the type of insurance you have and the reason for the ultrasound.

In general, most medical insurance plans will cover the cost of an ultrasound if it is considered medically necessary.

This means that if your doctor has ordered the ultrasound as part of a diagnostic test or to monitor a medical condition, your insurance should cover the cost.

However, if the ultrasound is being done for non-medical reasons, such as for a gender reveal or to get pictures of the baby, it may not be covered by insurance.

In this case, you may need to pay out of pocket for the cost of the ultrasound.

It’s also important to note that insurance coverage for other types of imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans, may be different than for ultrasounds.

Again, this will depend on your specific insurance or health benefits plans and the reason for the test.

If you’re unsure whether or not your insurance will cover the cost of an ultrasound, it’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider before scheduling the test.

This can help you avoid any unexpected out-of-pocket expenses.

In summary, if your doctor has ordered an ultrasound as part of a diagnostic test or to monitor a medical condition, it should be covered by your insurance.

However, if the ultrasound is being done for non-medical reasons, such as for a gender reveal, it may not be covered.

Always check with your insurance provider  or health benefit plan provider network to confirm coverage before scheduling any testing or exams.

Key Points to Remember

  • Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to create images of your internal structures.
  • Emergency situations that cause severe abdominal pain or involve pregnancy issues may require an immediate ultrasound in a 24-hour ER.
  • Technicians in the emergency department are trained to perform ultrasounds and interpret the results promptly.
  • Preparation for an ultrasound can vary, and it’s essential to follow the instructions given by the medical care team.
  • Communication with your technician is crucial for a smooth ultrasound experience.
  • Understanding your insurance coverage is key when anticipating the cost of an ultrasound in the ER.

Through understanding and preparation, you can navigate your ER ultrasound with confidence, ensuring that you receive the best possible care.

Frequently Asked Questions


Where can I find a nearby facility for an elective ultrasound?

Most hospitals and medical centers offer ultrasound services. You can search for a facility near you by checking online directories or contacting your healthcare provider.

Is it possible to get an ultrasound done on the same day?

It depends on the availability of the facility and the urgency of your situation. Emergency ultrasounds are typically done on the same day, but elective ultrasounds may require an appointment.

What is the cost of a pregnancy ultrasound in the emergency room?

The cost of an emergency ultrasound varies depending on the facility and your insurance coverage. You can contact your insurance provider or the hospital billing department for more information.

What are some signs that indicate the need for an emergency ultrasound during pregnancy?

Some signs that may indicate the need for an emergency ultrasound during pregnancy include severe abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, and decreased fetal movement.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

How do I request an ultrasound during a visit to the ER?

You can request an ultrasound during your visit to the ER by discussing your symptoms with the healthcare provider.

They will determine if an ultrasound is necessary based on your medical history and current condition.

When is it appropriate to ask for an ultrasound during pregnancy?

It is appropriate to ask for an ultrasound during pregnancy if you have concerns about the health of your baby or if your healthcare provider recommends it.

Your healthcare provider may also order ultrasounds at specific intervals during your pregnancy to monitor the growth and development of your baby.


  1. Mayo Clinic: Ultrasound – https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ultrasound/about/pac-20395177 This resource offers general information about the ultrasound procedure, what it’s used for, and what to expect.
  2. RadiologyInfo.org: General Ultrasound – https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=genus This site provides an in-depth look at ultrasound procedures, including how to prepare and what you may experience.
  3. American College of Emergency Physicians: Emergency Care For You – https://www.emergencycareforyou.org/ This website provides information about different emergency situations, including what to say and do in the ER.
  4. Harvard Health Blog: What not to say in the ER – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-not-to-say-in-the-er-201401156974 This blog post provides advice about what to avoid saying in the ER, which can be useful for creating a guide of what TO say.
  5. Verywell Health: How to Talk to Your Doctor About Pain – https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-to-talk-to-your-doctor-about-pain-5095515 This resource provides guidance on how to effectively communicate about pain, a common reason for ER visits and ultrasounds.
  6. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Talking With Your Doctor – https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/communication This government resource provides general tips on effectively communicating with healthcare professionals.


This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.