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Sonogram vs Ultrasound: What’s the Difference?

A cartoon of a doctor giving a patient an ultrasound.

The terms ultrasound and sonogram are often used interchangeably in the medical world, but there are subtle differences between them. If you’ve been prescribed an ultrasound exam, you may wonder about the differences between a sonogram vs ultrasound. Please continue reading to find out more about this medical exam.

How does ultrasound technology work? 

Ultrasound produces high-frequency sound waves, which are called ultrasound waves. The sound waves bounce off internal organs, and the echoes create images on a computer screen. These images are used for medical diagnosis of diseases such as cancer. They can be used to observe blood flow and diagnose conditions of the heart and blood vessels. Obstetric ultrasound is used to check an unborn baby during early pregnancy and predict the due date. Ultrasound guidance is used during medical procedures, such as the placement of a catheter or the needle tip during a needle biopsy. 

In addition to its use in a diagnostic procedure, therapeutic ultrasound can be used to heat tissues during physical therapy, dissolve blood clots, break up kidney stones, and deliver drugs to specific locations in the body. High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is used to treat conditions such as glaucoma and for laparoscopic tissue ablation (destruction of abnormal tissue with heat).

Are high-frequency sound waves safe?

As mentioned, ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images. These sound waves are safe and radiation-free. This non-invasive procedure is generally pain-free, although it can be slightly uncomfortable in certain situations. The procedure can be performed with a portable ultrasound machine. Diagnostic imaging with sonogram images is widely available and affordable.

What are the different types of ultrasound?

An ultrasound technician uses a handheld transducer probe to obtain ultrasound images. This ultrasound equipment emits and detects sound waves to create images. Ultrasound imaging is done with the transducer probe placed on the patient’s skin surface, such as the skin of the abdomen, during a transabdominal ultrasound to view soft tissues and organs in the abdomen. A Doppler ultrasound is a special type of ultrasound to study the speed and direction of blood flow.

An ultrasound tech can also insert a special transducer wand into one of the natural cavities in the human body to generate sonograms, such as the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound), rectum (transrectal ultrasound), and esophagus for images of the heart (transesophageal echocardiogram).

Is a sonogram the same as an ultrasound?

When understanding sonography, the terms sonogram vs ultrasound can be confusing. They are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences.

Ultrasound is the tool used during ultrasound examinations. Sonogram is the image produced. Ultrasonography or sonography refers to the process of using ultrasound equipment to produce a sonogram image. The procedure is performed by ultrasound technicians who are trained to use an ultrasound machine.

How is a sonogram different from an ultrasound procedure?

As mentioned above, ultrasound is the equipment used for diagnostic imaging. Sonogram is the image produced.

Do you get a sonogram or ultrasound when pregnant?

You undergo an imaging test called sonography or ultrasonography when pregnant. This is done using ultrasound tools to produce images called a sonogram.

Why would someone need a sonogram?

Medical professionals may order an ultrasound test or noninvasive procedure for the following therapeutic and diagnostic purposes:

  • A transabdominal ultrasound to diagnose medical conditions affecting the abdominal organs such as the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas
  • A pelvic ultrasound to diagnose ovary, testes, and prostate conditions
  • Muscle and bone sonography to diagnose problems in the shoulders, hips, or elbows
  • Breast ultrasound scans to further investigate abnormalities detected on physical examination or mammogram
  • Eye scans to check the internal structures of the eye
  • Obstetric ultrasound to check the baby’s development, listen to the baby’s heartbeat, and check the amniotic fluid in pregnant women
  • To provide visual direction during a needle biopsy or catheter placement
  • For visualization of blood flow in the heart and blood vessels
  • For differentiating cancerous cells from healthy tissue
  • Therapeutic ultrasounds to treat soft tissue injuries, break up kidney stones, or destroy diseased tissue 



  1. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/sonogram
  2. https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/ultrasound
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3810427/