The development of new ultrasound technology holds exciting prospects for the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of gynecological and obstetrical conditions, according to a physician at New York University Medical Center.

"Recently introduced into the United States, endovaginal sonography provides the physician with an exceptionally clear close-up image during an office examination," said Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology.

An article in an upcoming issue of the center's Health Letter explains that an endovaginal sonograph consists of a small probe that is inserted into the vagina, and a video screen on which the resultant image is displayed.

"The device yields a high-resolution magnified image of the uterus, ovaries and pelvic structures," Goldstein stated. "The image produced endovaginally makes it possible for the physician to observe without distortion details that cannot be seen with the naked eye."

Endovaginal sonography differs from traditional sonography, which has been used for the past 20 years to view the developing fetus. "Both use sound waves rather than radiation to obtain an image. In traditional sonography, sound waves are transmitted from the outside of the abdomen through a full bladder; the new technique is performed within the vagina and does not require the bladder to be filled," Goldstein said.

Originally developed for the investigation or treatment of infertility, endovaginal ultrasound is now also used for direct examination of the ovaries to determine any structural problems and to track ovulation. "With a small needle fitted to the end of the probe, it has virtually replaced laparoscopy for retrieval of eggs for in-vitro fertilization," the gynecologist asserted.

The technique has important applications in the examining room. "If, in a standard pelvic examination, a gynecologist suspects a structural abnormality or growth, endovaginal sonography can confirm it at once.

Endovaginal ultrasound is also successful in the diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants in a fallopian tube.