What is an ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture (also known as a sonogram) of organs, tissues, and other structures inside the body. Unlike x-rays, ultrasounds don’t use any radiation. An ultrasound can also show parts of the body in motion, such as a heart beating or blood flowing through blood vessels.
There are two main categories of ultrasounds: pregnancy ultrasound and diagnostic ultrasound.
- Pregnancyultrasound is used to look at an unborn baby. The test can provide information about a baby’s growth, development, and overall health.
- Diagnostic ultrasound is used to view and provide information about other internal parts of the body. These include the heart, blood vessels, liver, bladder, kidneys, and female reproductive organs.
Other names: sonogram, ultrasonography, pregnancy sonography, fetal ultrasound, obstetric ultrasound, diagnostic medical sonography, diagnostic medical ultrasound
What is it used for?
An ultrasound can be used in different ways, depending on the type of ultrasound and which part of the body is being checked.
A pregnancy ultrasound is done to get information about the health of an unborn baby. It may be used to:
- Confirm that you are pregnant.
- Check the size and position of the unborn baby.
- Check to see you are pregnant with more than one baby.
- Estimate how long you have been pregnant. This is known as gestational age.
- Check for signs of Down syndrome, which include thickening in the back of the baby's neck.
- Check for birth defects in the brain, spinal cord, heart, or other parts of the body.
- Check the amount of amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is a clear liquid that surrounds an unborn baby during pregnancy. It protects the baby from outside injury and cold. It also helps promote lung development and bone growth.
Diagnostic ultrasound may be used to:
- Find out if blood is flowing at a normal rate and level.
- See if there is a problem with the structure of your heart.
- Look for blockages in the gallbladder.
- Check the thyroid gland for cancer or non-cancerous growths.
- Check for abnormalities in the abdomen and kidneys.
- Help guide a biopsy procedure. A biopsy is a procedure that removes a small sample of tissue for testing.
In women, diagnostic ultrasound may be used to:
- Look at a breast lump to see if it might be cancer. (The test may also be used to check for breast cancer in men, though this type of cancer is far more common in women.)
- Help find the cause of pelvic pain.
- Help find the cause of abnormal menstrual bleeding.
- Help diagnose infertility or monitor infertility treatments.
In men, diagnostic ultrasound may be used to help diagnose disorders of the prostate gland.
Why do I need an ultrasound?
You may need a ultrasound if you are pregnant. There is no radiation used in the test. It offers a safe way of checking the health of your unborn baby.
You may need diagnosticultrasound if you have symptoms in certain organs or tissues. These include the heart, kidneys, thyroid, gallbladder, and female reproductive system. You may also need ultrasound if you are getting a biopsy. The ultrasound helps your health care provider get a clear image of the area that is being tested.
What happens during an ultrasound?
A ultrasound usually includes the following steps:
- You will lie on a table, exposing the area that’s being viewed.
- A health care provider will spread a special gel on the skin over that area.
- The provider will move a wand-like device, called a transducer, over the area.
- The device sends sound waves into your body. The waves are so high pitched that you can’t hear them.
- The waves are recorded and turned into images on a monitor.
- You may be able to view the images as they are being made. This often happens during a pregnancy ultrasound, allowing you to look at your unborn baby.
- After the test is over, the provider will wipe the gel off your body.
- The test takes about 30 to 60 minutes to complete.
In some cases, a pregnancy ultrasound may be done by inserting the transducer into the vagina. This is most often done early in pregnancy.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
The preparations will depend on which type of ultrasound you are having. For ultrasounds of the abdominal area, including pregnancyultrasounds and ultrasounds of the female reproductive system, you may need to fill up your bladder before the test. This involves drinking two to three glasses of water about an hour before the test, and not going to the bathroom. For other ultrasounds, you may need to adjust your diet or to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before your test. Some types of ultrasounds require no preparation at all.
Your health care provider will let you know if you need to do anything to prepare for your ultrasound.
Are there any risks to the test?
There are no known risks to having an ultrasound. It is considered safe during pregnancy.
What do the results mean?
If your pregnancy ultrasound results were normal, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a healthy baby. No test can do that. But normal results may mean:
- Your baby is growing at a normal rate.
- You have the right amount of amniotic fluid.
- No birth defects were found, though not all birth defects will show up on an ultrasound.
If your pregnancy ultrasound results were not normal, it may mean:
- The baby is not growing at a normal rate.
- You have too much or too little amniotic fluid.
- The baby is growing outside the uterus. This is called an ectopic pregnancy. A baby can’t survive an ectopic pregnancy, and the condition can be life threatening for the mother.
- There is a problem with the baby’s position in the uterus. This could make delivery more difficult.
- Your baby has a birth defect.
If your pregnancy ultrasound results were not normal, it doesn’t always mean your baby has a serious health problem. Your provider may suggest more tests to help confirm a diagnosis.
If you had diagnosticultrasound, the meaning of your results will depend on which part of the body was being looked at.
If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.
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- American Pregnancy Association [Internet]. Irving (TX): American Pregnancy Association; c2018. Ultrasound: Sonogram; [updated 2017 Nov 3; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/prenatal-testing/ultrasound
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- Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cleveland (OH): Cleveland Clinic; c2019. Your Ultrasound Test: Risks/Benefits; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4995-your-ultrasound-test/risks--benefits
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2019. Fetal Ultrasound: Overview; 2019 Jan 3 [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/fetal-ultrasound/about/pac-20394149
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2019. Male breast cancer: Diagnosis and treatment; 2018 May 9 [cited 2019 Feb 5]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-breast-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374745
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2019. Male breast cancer: Symptoms and causes; 2018 May 9 [cited 2019 Feb 5]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20374740
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2019. Ultrasound: Overview; 2018 Feb 7 [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ultrasound/about/pac-20395177
- Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co., Inc.; c2019. Ultrasonography; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/special-subjects/common-imaging-tests/ultrasonography
- National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: biopsy; [cited 2020 Jul 21]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/biopsy
- National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: sonogram; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/sonogram
- National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): Department of Health and Human Services; Ultrasound; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/ultrasound
- Radiology Info.org [Internet]. Radiological Society of North America, Inc.; c2019. Obstetric Ultrasound; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=obstetricus
- UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida; c2019. Amniotic fluid: Overview; [updated 2019 Jan 20; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/amniotic-fluid
- UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida; c2019. Ectopic pregnancy: Overview; [updated 2019 Jan 20; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/ectopic-pregnancy
- UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida; c2019. Ultrasound: Overview; [updated 2019 Jan 20; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/ultrasound
- UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida; c2019. Ultrasound pregnancy: Overview; [updated 2019 Jan 20; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/ultrasound-pregnancy
- University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2019. Health Encyclopedia: Fetal Ultrasound; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=92&contentid=P09031
- University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2019. Health Encyclopedia: Ultrasound; [cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/imaging/patients/exams/ultrasound.aspx
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Education and Training Opportunities: About Diagnostic Medical Sonography; [updated 2016 Nov 9; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health-careers-education-and-training/about-diagnostic-medical-sonography/42356
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Fetal Ultrasound: How It Is Done; [updated 2017 Nov 21; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 6 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/fetal-ultrasound/hw4693.html#hw4722
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Fetal Ultrasound: Results; [updated 2017 Nov 21; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 8 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/fetal-ultrasound/hw4693.html#hw4734
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Fetal Ultrasound: Test Overview; [updated 2017 Nov 21; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/fetal-ultrasound/hw4693.html
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Fetal Ultrasound: What To Think About; [updated 2017 Nov 21; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 10 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/fetal-ultrasound/hw4693.html#hw4740
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2019. Fetal Ultrasound: Why It Is Done; [updated 2017 Nov 21; cited 2019 Jan 20]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/fetal-ultrasound/hw4693.html#hw4707
Can you trust ultrasound results? ›
Ultrasounds may be used to diagnose birth defects, but they are not always accurate. It's thought that a second-trimester ultrasound, often done between 16 and 20 weeks, may detect three out of four major birth defects.How long does it take to get results from an ultrasound? ›
When your ultrasound is finished, a radiologist will review your ultrasound results and send your healthcare provider a written report within 24 hours. Ask your healthcare provider how and when you will get the results from your ultrasound.How many percent is ultrasound accurate? ›
A 2015 study found that ultrasound technicians correctly predict a baby's assigned sex nearly 100% of the time after 14 weeks gestation.How common are ultrasound mistakes? ›
The chances of an error with ultrasound are up to 5 percent, says Schaffir. An ultrasound can be between 95 to 99 percent accurate in determining sex, depending on when it's done, how skilled the sonographer is and whether baby is in a position that shows the area between their legs. Mistakes can also be made.Can there be a mistake in ultrasound? ›
Similarly to other diagnostic tools, errors may occur in ultrasound examinations. They generally result from inappropriate techniques, which do not conform to current standards, or erroneous interpretation of obtained images.Does ultrasound give instant results? ›
The test typically takes less than 30 minutes to complete. You will not get results from the technician. They will send the images to your doctor to review. Your doctor's office will contact you with the results.Do doctors call with ultrasound results? ›
They will call you to discuss the findings, or to schedule a follow-up appointment. Should anything abnormal turn up on the ultrasound, you may need to undergo other diagnostic techniques, such as a CT scan, MRI, or a biopsy sample of tissue depending on the area examined.Will a radiologist tell you if something is wrong? ›
When radiologists and other physicians notice them, they must inform the patient. If they fail to do so, they could be putting the patient at serious risk. Tragically, there is no law in Indiana requiring radiologists to notify patients of abnormal test results even though they are required to do so in other states.What ultrasound Cannot detect? ›
Ultrasound images are not as detailed as those from CT or MRI scans. Ultrasound cannot tell whether a tumor is cancer. Its use is also limited in some parts of the body because the sound waves can't go through air (such as in the lungs) or through bone.What are 3 conditions commonly treated by ultrasound? ›
Ultrasound is used for many reasons, including to: View the uterus and ovaries during pregnancy and monitor the developing baby's health. Diagnose gallbladder disease. Evaluate blood flow.
Can you tell if something is cancerous from an ultrasound? ›
Because sound waves echo differently from fluid-filled cysts and solid masses, an ultrasound can reveal tumors that may be cancerous. However, further testing will be necessary before a cancer diagnosis can be confirmed.How often are ultrasounds inaccurate? ›
It's important to know there is a recognised 15% error in ultrasound fetal weight estimation. This means your baby can be either 15% smaller or 15% larger than the estimated weight given at your ultrasound. Ultrasound scans are generally more accurate for assessing your baby's size during the first half of pregnancy.How often are ultrasound measurements wrong? ›
The errors in individual fetal measurements and estimated fetal weight (EFW) have been well documented. For example, 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for abdominal circumference (AC), head circumference (HC) and femur length (FL) of ±9%, ±5% and ±11%, respectively, and for EFW of up to ±50% have been reported.Can ultrasound be false negative? ›
Thus, abdominal sonography has a false-negative rate of 4.3%. Lipiodol CT is associated with a significant false-positive rate of 43.7%.Why can't ultrasound techs tell you anything? ›
“Plenty of patients ask, but techs should not give information and should not even react to what they're seeing on the image,” Edwards said. “They aren't doctors, and while they do know how to get around your anatomy, they aren't qualified to diagnose you.”Can radiologist misread ultrasound? ›
If a doctor or radiologist misreads an x-ray, CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound, an injury or illness may go undiagnosed. Misreading a diagnostic image might mean that the radiologist failed to notice an abnormal growth or noticed but incorrectly identified it.What happens if you have an abnormal ultrasound? ›
Abnormal seems to imply that something is wrong with your baby. But what it means is that the test has shown something the doctor wants to take a closer look at. And that's what happens next. Your doctor will talk to you about what further test or tests you may need.Can a baby gender change? ›
Sex determination of a baby happens during fertilization, and it can't change during your pregnancy. However, there's a slim chance that the provider could read the 20-week ultrasound incorrectly and tell you you're having a girl (or a boy) when the opposite is true.How accurate are abdominal ultrasounds? ›
Yes, the medical community widely agrees that ultrasound is an accurate, safe test when performed by trained professionals. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound does not use radiation (which can cause medical issues at high doses).How do I get the best ultrasound results? ›
Drink plenty of fluids
Drink plenty of water in the DAYS leading up to your ultrasound. This simple tasks is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of pictures you will receive. Drinking water will increase the quality and clarity of your amniotic fluid which is like the “window” to view baby.
Why do you have to drink water before an ultrasound? ›
It is difficult for us to visualize your bladder with ultrasound unless it is full of fluid. Having a full bladder will also push the bowel out of the way and help to visualize other pelvic structures more clearly.Can I drink water before ultrasound? ›
You usually need to avoid food and drinks for 8 to 12 hours before an abdominal ultrasound. This is called fasting. Fasting helps prevent gas buildup in the belly area, which could affect the results.Do doctors call for negative results? ›
Do healthcare providers call you if test results show bad news? They may. If results are concerning, they may call you or have a receptionist call to schedule an appointment. 4 A healthcare provider may also call to assure you everything is okay or discuss any needed follow-up tests.Do ultrasound techs tell you what they see? ›
If your ultrasound is being performed by a technician, the technician most likely will not be allowed to tell you what the results mean. In that case, you will have to wait for your doctor to examine the images. Ultrasounds are used during pregnancy to measure the fetus and rule out or confirm suspected problems.Why do doctors want you to come in for test results? ›
There are three main reasons a doctor might order tests for you. One reason would be to diagnose you. The second reason would be to measure the effectiveness of a treatment. The third reason would be to monitor a chronic illness or condition.How long does it take for a radiologist to read a scan? ›
How long does it take to get results? The results of the scan usually take 24 hours. A radiologist, a physician who specializes in reading and interpreting CT scan and other radiologic images, will review your scan and prepare a report that explains them.How long does it take for radiologist to read results? ›
The swift transmission of diagnostic information is important to both patients and referring physicians. The results from an MRI scan are typically interpreted within 24 hours, and the scans themselves are usually given immediately to the patient on a disc after the MRI is complete.What happens when doctors can't find anything wrong? ›
What should I do if I can't get a diagnosis? If you think you have an underlying disease that hasn't been diagnosed, you can ask your primary care provider for a referral to a specialist. And if you or your doctor suspect the disease could be genetic, you can always make an appointment at a medical genetics clinic.What does red mean on an ultrasound? ›
Vessels in which blood is flowing are colored red for flow in one direction and blue for flow in the other, with a color scale that reflects the speed of the flow. Because different colors are used to designate the direction of blood flow, this Doppler technique simplifies interpretation of the ultrasound data.Can ultrasound detect inflammation? ›
Ultrasound (US) is a sensitive method for detecting joint/tendon inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Subclinical inflammation is often found in patients with RA in composite score remission.
What is a failed ultrasound? ›
First-trimester pregnancy failure is defined by ultrasound as a lack of sonographic evidence of current or expected viability.What is the greatest risk during an ultrasound scan? ›
Diagnostic ultrasound and/or sonography is considered a safe, noninvasive procedure by most every medical community, in part, because it uses low-power sound waves. No major medical source in the U.S. has cited that there are any direct risks from a diagnostic ultrasound exam harmful enough to prevent it's use.Why would a physician recommend an ultrasound? ›
The test can provide information about a baby's growth, development, and overall health. Diagnostic ultrasound is used to view and provide information about other internal parts of the body. These include the heart, blood vessels, liver, bladder, kidneys, and female reproductive organs.What is a primary disadvantage of ultrasound? ›
The primary disadvantage of sonography is that this technique is highly operator dependent, particularly in the breast. However, if one can overcome the barrier of operator dependence, then one potentially may reduce the cost of diagnosis of breast cancers.What does a cancerous tumor look like on an ultrasound? ›
Cancerous tissue also shows up as white on a mammogram. Therefore it is sometimes hard to distinguish dense tissue from cancerous tissue. On an ultrasound cancerous tissue shows up black and dense tissue is still white, therefore cancers are easier to distinguish.Can ultrasound detect benign tumors? ›
Ultrasound can usually help differentiate between benign and malignant tumours based on shape, location, and a number of other sonographic characteristics. If the ultrasound is inconclusive, your doctor may request follow-up ultrasound to monitor the tumor or a radiologist may recommend a biopsy.What does yellow mean on an ultrasound? ›
A third color, usually green or yellow, is often used to denote areas of high flow turbulence. These colors are user-definable and may be reversed, however this is generally inadvisable as it may confuse later readers of the images.Are ultrasounds 100% accurate? ›
Ultrasounds may be used to diagnose birth defects, but they are not always accurate. It's thought that a second-trimester ultrasound, often done between 16 and 20 weeks, may detect three out of four major birth defects.How far off are ultrasound measurements? ›
Ultrasound is not very reliable for estimating fetal weight near term. For a 9-pound baby, an ultrasound's predictive accuracy is typically 15 to 20 percent off. Which means we may over- or underestimate by more than a pound.Can ultrasounds be off by a week? ›
Sometimes the dates can be more than a week off and sometimes even as much as 4 weeks. An early obstetric ultrasound performed at approximately 8 weeks where a crown rump length (the CRL) is measured precisely predicts an estimated due date accurately.
Can ultrasound head measurements be wrong? ›
Overall, sonographic HC measurements consistently underestimated actual HC measured postnatally (mean simple error, - 13.6 mm; 95% CI, - 13.2 to - 13.9), and the difference increased with gestational age.What causes a big baby? ›
Genetic factors and maternal conditions such as obesity or diabetes can cause fetal macrosomia. Rarely, a baby might have a medical condition that makes him or her grow faster and larger. Sometimes it's unknown what causes a baby to be larger than average.Is ultrasound more accurate than blood test? ›
Expectant mothers can determine the sex of their babies by undergoing an ultrasound test. Most pregnant women use this method as it gives a more accurate result. In addition, specialists, such as sonographers, radiologists, and obstetricians, perform the test making it safer compared to other baby gender test options.Can ultrasound detect any abnormalities? ›
An ultrasound creates pictures of the baby. This test is usually completed around 18–20 weeks of pregnancy. The ultrasound is used to check the size of the baby and looks for birth defects or other problems with the baby.How accurate are ultrasound findings? ›
As pregnancy progresses, the accuracy of an ultrasound for predicting due dates decreases. Between 18 and 28 weeks of gestation, the margin of error increases to plus or minus two weeks. After 28 weeks, the ultrasound may be off by three weeks or more in predicting a due date.Can ultrasounds be wrong about abnormalities? ›
In some cases, the imaging results may be misread (misclassified) or turn out to be nothing at all. One French study conducted in 2014 reported that 8.8% of congenital defects picked up by an ultrasound were wholly incorrect (false positive) and that 9.2% were misclassified.How accurate are diagnostic ultrasounds? ›
A study published in 2016 found that first-trimester ultrasounds were capable of finding anomalies. The researchers were successful in finding birth defects in 30 percent of women at low risk and 60 percent of women at high risk of having babies with anomalies.How accurate is ultrasound for abdomen? ›
Yes, the medical community widely agrees that ultrasound is an accurate, safe test when performed by trained professionals. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound does not use radiation (which can cause medical issues at high doses).What are the 4 main causes of birth defects? ›
Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain drugs during pregnancy. Having certain medical conditions, such as being obese or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy. Taking certain medications, such as isotretinoin (a drug used to treat severe acne). Having someone in your family with a birth defect.Does a Level 2 ultrasound mean something is wrong? ›
If some structures were not well seen during the first ultrasound, or there are other concerns, you will be advised to have a Level 2 ultrasound. This does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with your baby or your pregnancy. Level 2 ultrasounds are generally done in the same way as Level 1 ultrasounds.
What does red mean on an abdominal ultrasound? ›
What does red or blue mean on an ultrasound? Red and blue colors represent the movement of the blood. Blue represents blood flow away from the probe, while red represents the blood flowing towards the probe.What does a negative ultrasound mean? ›
In general, a NEGATIVE scan is good news which means that the scan is normal. An Ultrasound Scan may be POSITIVE for a specific condition, for example, gallstones, which means that an abnormality or disease has been identified.