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Ultrasound (US) in neuroimaging

Ultrasound (US) is routinely used in the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for imaging of the head, neck and spine. Ultrasound is an imaging technique which uses sound waves (not x-rays). Our ultrasound technologists have training and extensive experience in performing ultrasound exams on children and are particularly good at interacting with sick children and making them feel comfortable in a hospital environment. Similarly, our neuroradiologists have the required expertise and experience in interpreting these exams.

Advantages of ultrasound:

  • No ionizing radiation
  • Performed without sedation
  • Readily available screening exam
  • No patient preparation needed for head, neck or spine US
  • Less expensive than CT and MRI

Disadvantages of ultrasound:

  • May not provide sufficient answers - sometimes ultrasound does not provide enough specific information required for the care of a child.
  •  If needed additional tests such as CT scan or MRI may be needed after an ultrasound for an accurate and complete diagnosis

Head ultrasound:

Head ultrasound is performed on newborn children up to 9 months of age. (provided the anterior fontanelle is open). It is commonly used in premature babies for the detection and follow-up of hemorrhage (bleeding) within the head. Head ultrasound is used to screen and follow young children with heads larger than normal for age but can also be used to look for congenital brain abnormalities, subdural/extradural collections and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. Ultrasound can also examine any lumps or bumps on the head.

Transcranial color Doppler (TCD) ultrasound:

Color Doppler ultrasound is a noninvasive test used to examine blood vessels. TCD is used to examine the blood vessels of the brain. It is used in children with sickle cell disease to evaluate their risk for a stroke. Other uses may include detection or follow up of vascular malformations, narrowing or blocking of blood vessels and evaluation of blood flow to the brain.

Neck ultrasound:

Neck ultrasound is used to evaluate lumps and bumps in the neck, which could be inflamed lymph nodes, cysts, abscesses or cancer. Abnormalities of the salivary glands and thyroid gland can also be evaluated by US. Color Doppler US can be used to examine the blood vessels in the neck.

Spine ultrasound:

Spine ultrasound is performed from the newborn period up to 3 months age. This is typically performed in young babies with a lower back dimple, skin tag or hair tuft as these may be associated with congenital abnormalities of the spine and spinal cord. Other possible uses include looking for hemorrhage (bleeding) in the spine related to birth injury or any procedure. Patients may need an MRI after the initial ultrasound.

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Center of Excellence


Children's Hospital of Wisconsin's imaging department just received the Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. Our imaging department was the third children's hospital in the nation to receive this prestigious credential.