Ultrasound Kidney Scan

What is an ultrasound kidney scan?

An ultrasound kidney scan, also known as a renal ultrasound or renal sonogram, is a non-invasive medical imaging procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create detailed images of your kidneys and nearby structures. This diagnostic test is commonly used to assess your kidneys’ size, shape, and overall health.

Ultrasound kidney scans are valuable for identifying various kidney conditions such as chronic kidney disease, kidney cysts, and kidney cancer. These imaging scans provide essential information to urologists, which aids them in diagnosing and monitoring kidney-related issues without the need for radiation or invasive procedures, making it a safe and effective tool in medical diagnostics.

Kidney ultrasound scans are used to identify kidney conditions.

How do ultrasound kidney scans work?

During the ultrasound, a water-based gel is applied to the skin overlying your kidneys, which helps transmit the sound waves. A transducer or ultrasound wand is pressed onto the area where it sends and receives sound waves. The transducer captures the echoes of these sound waves as they bounce off internal structures, creating real-time images on a computer monitor.

These images show the internal structures of your kidneys, including their size, shape, blood flow, and any potential abnormalities. These images are examined to assess the health and condition of your kidneys.

Ultrasound kidney scans are non-invasive, safe, and do not involve radiation, making them a valuable diagnostic tool for evaluating kidney health and diagnosing various kidney-related conditions.

ultrasound machine
An ultrasound machine is used to send and receive sound waves.

Benefits of ultrasound kidney scans

  • Non-invasive
  • Safe and painless
  • Real-time imaging
  • Blood flow visualisation
  • Reliable diagnosis and monitoring of kidney conditions

What conditions can an ultrasound kidney scan diagnose?

Ultrasound kidney scans are effective and reliable in diagnosing the following kidney conditions:

  • Kidney stones: kidney stones are made of crystalised forms of minerals such as calcium oxalate, cystine, uric acid, and struvite. They can accumulate in various parts of the kidney and cause excruciating pain.
  • Kidney cysts: kidney cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can occur anywhere on the kidney. They are usually harmless but may cause discomfort if they are infected, start to bleed, or grow too big.
  • Kidney cancer: kidney cancer is characterised by tumours or masses that grow in the kidney. These tumours may metastasise and spread to the rest of the body if left untreated.
  • Infections: infections in or near the kidneys can be detected using an ultrasound kidney scan.
  • Kidney size or shape abnormalities: conditions like horse-shoe kidneys can be diagnosed and monitored using an ultrasound kidney scan.
  • Blood flow problems in the kidneys: conditions such as renal artery stenosis, where the narrowing of the renal artery causes blood flow restriction to the kidneys, can be monitored using ultrasound kidney scans.
horseshoe kidneys
A kidney ultrasound scan can detect and monitor horseshoe kidneys.

What results can I expect from an ultrasound kidney scan?

During an ultrasound kidney scan, you can expect the following results:

  • Visual images: the primary result is the real-time visual images of your kidneys displayed on a monitor. These images provide a clear view of the internal structures, including your kidneys’ size, shape, and position.
  • Blood flow evaluation: a blood flow evaluation can assess blood flow within your kidneys by analysing the movement of blood vessels in the images. This helps identify any circulation issues or blockages.
  • Detection of abnormalities: the ultrasound can reveal abnormalities such as kidney stones, cysts, tumours, or infections. These findings are crucial for diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • Functional assessment: while ultrasounds primarily provide structural information, they can also indirectly offer insights into kidney function. For example, it can help assess urine flow if you have a condition affecting it.
kidney ultrasound
The results of a kidney ultrasound are non-invasive and informative.

How many ultrasound kidney scans are needed?

Generally, only one kidney ultrasound scan is needed. Unlike certain medical procedures or therapies that involve multiple sessions over time, an ultrasound is a single, non-invasive examination.

However, in some cases, if additional information or a closer look is required, follow-up imaging studies or tests may be recommended. Still, these would be separate from the initial ultrasound session.

Frequently asked questions

A typical ultrasound kidney scan takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. It is a relatively quick and non-invasive procedure.

No, an ultrasound kidney scan is not painful. It is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to create images without causing discomfort.

In most cases, you won’t receive the results immediately after an ultrasound kidney scan. The images need to be interpreted by a radiologist, and your urologist will discuss the results with you afterwards.

Yes, children can undergo kidney ultrasound scans. It is a safe and commonly used imaging procedure for paediatric patients to assess the kidneys and diagnose potential issues.

Kidney ultrasound scans are considered safe and do not involve exposure to ionising radiation, making them a low-risk imaging option. They are routinely used for diagnostic purposes without significant risks.

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Dr. Fiona Wu 2

Dr Fiona Wu
Consultant Urologist

MBBS (S'pore), MRCS (Edin), MMED (Surg),
MMED (Clinical Investigation),
FRCS (Urol) (RCPSG), FAMS (Urology)

Dr Fiona Wu is an experienced Consultant Urologist and is the Medical Director of Aare Urocare.

Prior to her private practice, Dr Fiona Wu spent 15 years in public service. She was a Consultant in the Department of Urology at National University Hospital (NUH), Alexandra Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. She was also the Programme Director of Surgery-in-Training at NUH and a core faculty member of postgraduate junior doctors. 

Dr Wu’s clinical interests lie in Female Urology, Neuro-urology, Urinary Incontinence, Reconstructive Urology and Voiding Dysfunction. She believes in treating incontinence in a holistic way using minimally invasive methods. She worked closely with the gynaecology and colorectal departments to treat complex pelvic floor conditions and continues to do so in her own practice. 

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