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Why Is Algebra Important in Sonography?

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Sonography is a medical diagnostic imaging technique that visualizes body structures such as muscles, joints and internal organs. This discipline is crucial for detecting disease pathology and possible lesions. Algebra plays an important role in the science behind sonography and it allows sonographers to accurately diagnose medical images.

Sound Waves

The science behind sonography is founded on the concept of sound waves. These waves are mechanical vibrations that can travel through a diverse medium. Waves traveling at the same frequencies add together, thus connecting the field to basic algebra. The ultrasound machine releases high-frequency sound waves to target specific parts of the body for screening. As the waves bounce back at particular frequencies, the echoes depict a picture that is recorded.

Ultrasound Components

An ultrasound, or sonographic, machine consists of four components: the transducer, electrical signal processing unit, display unit and film recording equipment. The assembly as a whole allows the sonographer to collect high resolution images of the targeted body area. Algebra is used throughout the entire process to collect measurements from the resolution images. For example, the abdominal circumference must be measured and scaled during obsteric ultrasounds. The sonographer can use the circumference to calcuate the fetal weight using a standardized equation. These computations often reflect basic algebraic principles.

Obtaining Patient Histories

A basic patient history must be obtained by each sonographer before any ultrasound testing can take place. Patient histories contain all the past, relevant medical data ranging from previous injuries to metabolic data. Because a patient’s medical history can affect the interpretation of ultrasound images, the sonographer must correctly calculate items such as metabolic rates, resting heart rate and body weight. For example, the patient's resting heart rate can be calculated by measuring the number of beats for 10 seconds and then multiplying that number by 6 to obtain the standard number of beats per minute.

Image Analysis

After in image is generated by the ultrasound machine, the sonographer must obtain and use the data to make a medical recommendation. Sonographers look for visual cues that can contrast healthy areas with abnormal or unhealthy areas. Images are shown on the computer as a grid of pixels, with each pixel assigned a shade of grey. Sonography uses algebra here when it stores the image as an array of numbers, scaled to whatever dimensions are necessary. The grid dimensions represent the total size of the pixel. For instance, a 40 by 40 pixel grid results in an image of 1,600 pixels. Shadings of grey will be given numerical values ranging from 0 to 1.


Based in Pleasanton, Calif., Joshua Liu has been writing animal- and health-related articles since 2010. His articles have appeared on eHow. Liu is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

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