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What to Know Before Your Kidney Ultrasound Appointment

Kidney Ultrasound

A kidney ultrasound can help diagnose kidney-related conditions. Here’s what to know before you attend your next appointment.

If you’ve noticed a hint of pink in your urine, it’s time to speak with your doctor. You’ll also want to make an appointment if you’ve been experiencing increasing lower back pain, especially coupled with nausea and a high fever. In both cases, your doctor may refer you for a kidney ultrasound.

If you’ve got an appointment for a kidney ultrasound, you may have questions about the procedure or feel apprehensive about the results. This article breaks down the information you need to be ready for your appointment and will help you better understand your scan results, including:

  • What a kidney ultrasound can show
  • How to prepare for your kidney ultrasound appointment
  • What follow-up questions to ask your doctor
  • How to access and understand your ultrasound report

What is a kidney ultrasound and how does it work?

A kidney ultrasound is a safe, non-invasive imaging test that examines the structures of the kidney to diagnose kidney-related conditions. During your appointment, an ultrasound technician will pass a hand-held device called a transducer over a small area of your body, allowing high-frequency sound waves to travel painlessly to your kidneys. An ultrasound machine then detects the sound waves and uses them to create flat, 2D images of your kidneys and other soft-tissue areas nearby.

What’s the difference between a kidney and a renal ultrasound?

Both kidney and renal ultrasounds capture the structure of the kidneys, but a renal ultrasound explores further. Renal ultrasounds also capture the soft-tissue structures of the bladder and ureters (long tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder).

Why would someone need a kidney ultrasound?

Your physician may refer you for a kidney ultrasound if you’re experiencing specific symptoms or have an injury in the region. Symptoms or conditions that may require a kidney ultrasound include:

  • Changes to urination. The inability to completely empty the bladder or disrupted urine flow can suggest a blockage at one or both kidneys.
  • Injury. A known injury at or near the kidneys may require a closer look, or your physician may want to look for hidden signs of injury to the area.
  • Infection. A urinary tract infection (UTI) or infection of nearby tissue can spread to the kidneys and become a kidney infection.
  • Pain. Pain in the lower back or side, coupled with pain during urination, can indicate a UTI that has spread to the kidneys. Severe pain can also indicate a kidney abscess.
  • Pink or red urine. Blood in the urine doesn’t have to appear bright red to indicate a serious kidney condition. Always speak to your doctor about blood in your urine.
  • Surgery. Kidney transplant surgery or other surgery in the area can require follow-up ultrasounds to track healing and check for complications.
  • Suspected kidney stones. If you are experiencing pain upon urination, fever and chills, blood in your urine and pain in your side, you may have a kidney stone.
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI that does not respond to antibiotics may spread to the kidneys.

What can a kidney ultrasound show?

A kidney ultrasound is a valuable imaging tool for assessing various kidney conditions or irregularities, including those that may impact other organs.

A kidney ultrasound may show:

  • Kidney stones
  • Tumors or cysts
  • An enlarged kidney
  • Urine flow between the kidneys and the bladder
  • Blood flow to the kidneys
  • Inflammatory kidney conditions, like an infection or abscess
  • Progression of chronic kidney disease
  • Complications after kidney surgery or from a transplanted kidney

Kidney ultrasounds can also be used to determine the placement of needles used in a kidney biopsy or to drain fluid from a cyst. Ultrasounds may also be useful when placing a drainage tube or tracking larger kidney stones.

Although kidney ultrasounds can give your doctor vital information, they have limitations. A kidney ultrasound cannot always determine whether a mass is benign or cancerous. Further testing, like a CT scan, may be required.

What to expect during a kidney ultrasound appointment

During your kidney ultrasound appointment, the attending ultrasound technician will ask you to lay face up on an exam table and expose your abdomen area. A kidney ultrasound is an external ultrasound so the technician will apply a gel to your skin before using the transducer. They will then move the device through the gel over the area of concern, pausing every few seconds to capture images.

The technician may ask you to reposition yourself on your side to allow for clearer images, but the entire procedure usually takes no longer than half an hour. In some cases, your doctor may request that the ultrasound explore a blockage between your kidneys and bladder. In this case, you’ll be asked to begin the ultrasound with a full bladder but to take a quick moment to visit the washroom to empty your bladder before continuing.

A kidney ultrasound is a quick and painless procedure, but there are some things you can do to prepare for your appointment ahead of time, such as:

  • Bring your requisition form. Having your referral handy when you arrive can help make the check-in process quicker.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. You may be asked to change into a medical gown for the procedure.
  • Check your referral for instructions about water consumption. In many cases, you’ll need to arrive with a full bladder (at least 24 ounces of clear fluid) and drink the required amount within 30 minutes of your appointment.
  • Check your referral for instructions about food consumption. Typically, you do not need to fast before a kidney ultrasound. However, in cases where the arteries in your kidneys are being imaged, you may be asked to avoid food and drink.

Questions to ask during a kidney ultrasound exam

Keep in mind that your ultrasound technician is not able to answer any questions about what they see during your ultrasound and they cannot give you medical guidance. But during your appointment is a good time to ask the technician other questions you may have, like:

  • How long will the appointment last?
  • How do you share my images and report with my doctor?
  • How quickly will my doctor receive my results?
  • When can I see my ultrasound images and report?
  • How can I access my ultrasound images and report?

Questions to ask during your kidney ultrasound follow-up appointment

In Canada and the U.S., it’s illegal for your ultrasound technician to discuss what they see during imaging or your results. This means you’ll have to wait for your follow-up appointment with your referring physician before you can gain a medical opinion about your kidney ultrasound.

During your follow-up appointment, you can ask your doctor any questions you have about your kidney ultrasound results, including,

  • Will I require further imaging or testing?
  • What are my next steps and will I need treatment?
  • Will I need another ultrasound to follow up on these results?
  • Can I call with any further questions I may have?

If you have your own copy of your kidney ultrasound images and report, you’ll be able to review what your doctor describes and request confirmation about what you can see.

How do I access my kidney ultrasound results?

Waiting for your follow-up appointment to discuss your kidney ultrasound results can be nerve-wracking, but you may not have to wait as long as you think. With PocketHealth you can quickly and easily access your images and results as soon as the radiologist finishes their report, often before your follow-up appointment. You can also securely store and share your results directly from your device, making it easy to get a second opinion. Access your records here.

Medical reports aren’t light reading. You will likely encounter complex medical terminology in your report, but PocketHealth Report Reader can help. Report Reader provides definitions for the medical terms in your report, making it easier to comprehend your results, and spotlights any follow-up recommendations so you can feel informed and confident when speaking to your doctor at your next appointment.

Take control of your kidney health

If your doctor refers you for a kidney ultrasound, you now understand the procedure and your results, including what a kidney ultrasound can detect, what questions to ask during and after your appointment and how you can access your results.

Accessing and reviewing your kidney ultrasound results through PocketHealth before your follow-up appointment can help you prepare questions and feel confident discussing the results with your physician. Understanding the terminology and results outlined in your report using PocketHealth Report Reader allows you to become an informed participant, rather than a passenger, in your healthcare journey.

How PocketHealth works

Learn more about how to use PocketHealth to access and share your kidney ultrasound results.

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