A couple of weeks ago Simon and I went for an ultrasound…
At the time we were around 25 weeks pregnant and ideally we should have had our scan closer to 20 weeks which is apparently the best time to check the baby’s heart function. I have a considerable resistance to routine (not that this would have been routine) ultrasound, so it was then ironic that we were away in Queensland, then Canada and then finally the scan was delayed again due to the specialist’s change in availability.
Fortunately this baby has presented with no alarming signs unlike our pregnancy with Abe, where his heart rate was slower than normal, even initially.
Simon and I have both read considerable research regarding the overuse of ultrasound and the possible dangers involved. With our first two boys we didn’t consider that ultrasounds were clinically warranted and our pregnancies and births were very straightforward.
Even after losing Abe (our third boy) at around 25 weeks to a sporadic heart malfunction, that specialists told us could not have been prevented or treated had we known any earlier, I still believe that ultrasounds should not be overused. The more I read (some of which is included in the blog entitled CONCERNS ABOUT ULTRASOUND) the more concern I have. I am aware that ultrasounds can be extremely beneficial, although like all medical procedures they are not without the inherent risk of side-effects.
Popular thought is that the risks are minimal and perhaps this is true, but the reality is that no one can definitely say what the effects of ultrasound are for a developing baby. Like any choice made through your pregnancy, like any obstetric test that you have, ultrasound does warrant your investigation.
• The World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology,
• The American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine
• The Australian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine
all of whom are likely to support ultrasound usage have issued statements…
“that women should NOT have scans WITHOUT CLINICAL REASON.”1
The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) has maintained that:
“Ultrasound is most likely to affect development (behavioural and neurological), blood cells, the immune system and a child’s genetic makeup.”2
Ultrasound can be a wonderful tool that offers enormous peace of mind, and as a society we are fortunate to have such technology available, especially if there are concerns for your baby. Foetal ultrasound is much more controversial though than the public has been led to believe and there is now substantial research for these concerns. Studies have established the potential for a variety of adverse effects.
Even though the level of safety and efficacy of ultrasound has long been debated, it is common practice for women in Australia to have at least one—if not three—ultrasounds per pregnancy. Many practitioners suggest pregnant women have a routine scan at 12 weeks, at 16 or 18 weeks, and then again at 20–22 weeks.3 An IVF couple are sometimes encouraged to have more scans again, particularly if they are carrying twins.4 In the USA scans are routinely scheduled much more frequently.
These scans are all termed as ‘routine’, and yet many statements have been made internationally that “routine use of ultrasound cannot be justified”.5
What Is An Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is a scanning method that uses sound waves or electric fields to produce a picture of your unborn baby on a viewing screen. It is often easiest to think of ultrasound as sound-produced energy.6 Ultrasound allows you to see an embryo or gestational sac four to six weeks after conception.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, cells are rapidly dividing and are undifferentiated, while in the second and third trimester, cells continue to divide and become highly differentiated. It is the thermal, vibrational and mechanical changes that occur with ultrasound that may potentially cause a mutation of rapidly dividing cells, resulting in damage to foetal growth.7
The duration of the ultrasound and the frequency of which it is used within a pregnancy will vary, therefore so will the inherent dangers. Please see the blog entitled CONCERNS ABOUT ULTRASOUND for the possible risks involved.
If you decide that you would like to have a scan, the advice we have been given is that it is best to:
– Schedule an appointment at a “specialist clinic” that utilizes advanced ultrasound equipment
– Book with a specialist – i.e. a gynaecologist specializing in ultrasound, rather than an ultrasonographer
This helps to avoid over exposure through repeated scans in circumstances where a specialist is needed and to reduce the risk of any misdiagnosis and unnecessarily distress that would cause parents.
Important Clinical Reasons For An Ultrasound:
Ultrasound can be a useful diagnostic tool and, when administered by a skilled technician, it is considered to be a reliable method of determining8:
– A multiple pregnancy.
– Confirming foetal viability, imminent miscarriage or death of foetus.
– Detection of foetal abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, conditions that require immediate consideration.
– Detection of foetal masses.
– Detection of placental abnormalities.
– Identifying possible problems such as an I.U.D. (intrauterine device) that may still be in place.
Important Gynaecological Reasons For Ultrasound:
– Suspicion of tumours, fibroids, hydatidiform mole, ectopic pregnancies.
– Detection of possible reason’s for vaginal bleeding.
For further information regarding ultrasounds please see Concerns about Ultrasound.
Yours in health,
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
. . . . .
2.McTaggarts L.What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You.London:Thorson’s;1996
3.Melbourne Ultrasound For Women. Patient Information. Your Ultrasound Examination.(Online/Brochure) Available: www.melbuswomen.com.au(2004)
4.Bowman K.Ryan L.Twins. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin;2002
5.Stratmeyer ME. Christman CL. Biological Effects of Ultrasound.Women & Health.1982;7:3-4.
6.Fallon J DC. Chiropractic and Pregnancy. New York: New Rochelle; 1998
7.Fallon J DC. Chiropractic and Pregnancy. New York: New Rochelle; 1998
8.Melbourne Ultrasound For Women. Patient Information. Your Ultrasound Examination.(Online/Brochure) Available: www.melbuswomen.com.au(2004)