Is Pregnancy Ultrasound Risky?

Prenatal ultrasound is common during pregnancy and extremely helpful in learning more about your developing baby. But is excessive pregnancy ultrasound safe? Let’s learn all about it.

Ultrasound machines use high-pitched sound waves (250 times higher-pitched than can be heard by the human ear), transmitted through the abdominal wall to produce an echo image of your pelvis. By moving the transducer (the ultrasound transmitter) appropriately, different areas of anatomy, along with your baby, in the pelvis can be seen during pregnancy.

If it is very early in your pregnancy, the ultrasound technician may use a slender transducer in the vagina to visualize the uterus more easily. When you are further along in your pregnancy, ultrasound conducting gel will be placed on the lower abdomen for your ultrasound.

The amount of useful information gained from a pregnancy ultrasound examination depends on several factors. For instance, during fetal scans, the gestational age, maternal size, and amount of amniotic fluid can limit the detail of an exam. During a pregnancy ultrasound examination, you can see if you are having twins or multiples, which way the baby is positioned in the uterus, the location of the placenta, fetal heart and limb motion, and the amount of amniotic fluid. In addition, the measurement of various fetal parts can be made to estimate the age of your baby and to assure that fetal growth is normal.

The most amazing parts of the pregnancy ultrasound are seeing your little one’s heartbeat, the individual hair on their head, their rapid movements or kicks, and their profile. If you want to know the sex of your baby, you can see that too, usually at 18-20 weeks.

Over the past few years, new ultrasound technology has emerged. 3D ultrasound, often used in pregnancy, actually generates 3D pictures of your baby. Now, you can see exactly what he/she looks like before they’re even born. Whether you know it or not, there is probably a 3D pregnancy ultrasound clinic near you. Your doctor may even view your pregnancy with 3D ultrasound in her office!

No one knows the long-term effects of ultrasound use. Many practitioners feel that technology is perfectly safe since studies of babies and their mothers have not determined any effects. Other practitioners are not so convinced of ultrasound safety and feel that judicious use is advised.

It should be remembered that x-rays were in use for 50 years before the public became aware of detrimental effects. DES and thalidomide also were deemed safe and were later found to be the cause of cancer, sterility, and anomalies. Possibly the greatest risk of overuse of ultrasound technology is that if an ultrasound raises a question of fetal well-being, invasive and high-risk procedures and technologies may be instituted which do have clear risks to the mother or her baby.

Non-diagnostic ultrasound has demonstrated biological effects such as cell heating or thermal effects and cavitational activities using plants and animals. These experiments have had various outcomes and are difficult to equate with human outcomes. Also, diagnostic ultrasound uses far lower intensities. The current epidemiologic data finds no adverse outcomes from ultrasound use.

Many researchers believe that the benefits of diagnostic ultrasound outweigh the risks. There is no known risk to you or your baby from ultrasound during pregnancy. However, it is best advised to be judicious about unnecessary ultrasound use to keep you and your baby as safe as possible.

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