In the last few days you begin to detect some image dropouts while doing scans. The first worry that crosses the mind – Is the probe damaged? Ultrasound probes are expensive and one of the most important components of an ultrasound machine. They are also often exposed to mishandling and damage. Getting a new probe could be an expensive affair. Replacing with a used or refurbished transducer is a less preferred option – after all you don’t know the usage and service history of the probe. Often the best option with ultrasound probe is repair, if possible.
How do you decide if the probe is repairable or even faulty in the first place?
If your ultrasound probe is malfunctioning check and rule-out the following common problems or signs of a faulty probe:
Dropout or Dead Areas
Image dropout can be seen as a single line or a thick line or dark areas/ patches depending on the elements damaged or other defects. Dropouts are usually an indication of:
- dead elements in the array
- defective cable or
- bent/broken pins
At times it could be electrical/RF interference too. These transducer related issues can not only affect proper diagnosis, but also worsen over a period of time if left un-repaired. It also normally means your ultrasound probe needs repair.
Ultrasound probe repair – Damage to Cable, lens or strain relief
The cable, lens and strain relief are all important parts of the probe. Any damage to these or the housing of the probe would also be clearly visible. These damages are largely repairable. At the same time the damages should not be taken lightly as delay in repair could lead to deeper probe damages or harm to patient/user.
Cuts and Tears on the cable sheath are common. However, they can cause further internal damages to probe and can also hurt the patient or other due to electrocution. It leads to noise in the picture, a missing connection or lines in the image. Any damage to the cable is repairable and should be done as soon as possible to minimize harm.
Holes, tears, erosion of the lens or cuts in the strain relief could cause artifacts and trouble the user. These issues are repairable and can restore your probe to proper functionality. These repairs are also relatively cost-effective as compared to say, a motor replacement in the probe. In fact, lens replacement, cable sheath replacement, and repair of strain relief are among the most common ultrasound probe repair services done.
Read more about common probe defects that can be repaired.
If you are seeing noise artifacts they could be related to probes or the scanner itself. But in most cases they could be related to poor earthing or grounding issues. Read more about how to identify and deal with ultrasound image artifacts. Rule out RF interference issues before worrying about ultrasound probe repair.
Deciding to go for ultrasound probe repair or purchase
Ultrasound probe repair is always the lowest cost option and should be considered first. However, please ensure the probe is evaluated by a competent professional and repaired in a well-equipped lab. It is important that you do not end-up causing more permanent damages to the probe by going for quick-fix and cheap solutions.
A professional will evaluate the symptoms, determine the extent of damage, and depending on the circumstance, recommend either replacement or repair.
As detailed in the above sections – if faced with artifacts, first, scanner and RF interference issues must be ruled out.
As far as a faulty probe is concerned – most of the problems are repairable. Hole or crack on lens / membrane, tear in cable sheath, strain relief, broken pins, lock mechanism and such other are easier ultrasound probe repair issues.
3D/4D volume probes could have probe leakage problems or mechanical problem due to motor break-down. Volume ultrasound probes repair can be done through motor replacements, but these repairs are more expensive.
If there is crystal or elements damage, the extent of damage needs to be assessed by a professional. Very often these may not be repairable.
If the probe is not repairable or too costly to repair, replacement with a new, used or refurbished may be the only option.
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