What Is a Renal Ultrasound?

An example of a healthy kidney and one with tumors, which can be seen on an ultrasound.
A sonographer doing a renal ultrasound.
Human kidneys.
Article Details
  • Written By: Valerie Goldberg
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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An ultrasound uses inaudible sound waves to capture pictures of internal organs. A renal ultrasound is used specifically to obtain images of a person's kidneys. A doctor might order a renal ultrasound if a person is having chronic urinary problems, is suspected of having kidney stones or to see whether a kidney tumor is present.

One benefit of a renal ultrasound is that it is not an invasive procedure, so patients who might already be in pain will not have to experience any further discomfort. Patients are encouraged to drink only water on the morning of their renal ultrasound and should specifically avoid drinking soda. A renal ultrasound must be performed on a person with a full bladder for the the images to be as accurate as possible.

The procedure is performed by a trained technician. A patient will need to expose his or her stomach so that the technician can squirt some gel onto the area. The test administrator will then run a probe over the the area to capture the needed images. A renal ultrasound typically takes 45 minutes or less to perform. The procedure is not invasive, so patients are free to urinate after the ultrasound is over and can go on with their daily routine.

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A doctor will schedule a meeting with the patient to go over the renal ultrasound results. The sonographer who performed the test is not authorized to discuss the results with the patient. Depending on the findings in the images, a doctor might be able to make a diagnosis of a condition, or more tests might be needed.

A patient who is diagnosed with kidney stones might need additional procedures if the stones will not pass out of the body naturally. One available treatment is shockwave therapy, in which a doctor can break down the kidney stones to make them smaller. As a last resort, there also are surgeries available to remove the stone.

When a kidney cyst or tumor is spotted in a renal ultrasound image, a doctor might decide to do a biopsy to find out whether the lump is cancerous or benign. Biopsying a kidney usually requires a short hospital stay and some time off work. A patient might be in some pain after the procedure, and the doctor likely will prescribe short-term narcotics so that the patient can find relief. If the lump turns out to be cancerous, the doctor will work with the patient to find the best type of cancer treatment available.

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