So let’s start at the beginning, we all think we know what ultrasound is as to be honest it really isn’t a new technology (despite what our Nanna’s tell us about what they had “in their day”) In fact ultrasound for use in pregnancy has been around since the late 1950’s early 60’s but what is it really? What do we know about ultrasound?
Now we are lucky enough to pop along to one of the many private ultrasound clinics across the country and chose when and where we wish to have our scans, especially in pregnancy. We love to see our babies on scan, a truly magical experience with real developments in technology revealing amazing 3D and 4D real time images, but what exactly is it and is it safe?
What is ultrasound?
We may think we are good at hearing but we can only hear a narrow range of sounds that are actually centred around the pitches of a human voice. Bats, dolphins for example can hear much higher frequencies beyond our hearing. These are known as ultrasound, which have higher frequencies than normal sound waves, but they also have shorter wavelengths. In other words, the distance between one ultrasound wave traveling through the air and the one following on behind it is much shorter than in a normal sound wave.
This has an important effect: ultrasound waves reflect back from things much better than ordinary sound waves, and we as humans have found effective use for this, particularly in health. Instead of having to open the body to view inside, we now use ultrasound waves through the use of a medical scanner to beam ultrasound waves through a transducer (Probe – picture below) into the human body. The waves are reflected back to the scanner (computer) to draw a detailed picture on the screen…a scan image!
So now we can see our baby on Ultrasound! In the medical profession this is now routinely offered to all pregnant women to assess the pregnancy ensure the health and development of the baby(s) as well as health of the mother. What can we do with this technology? How can it help us?
Ultrasound in pregnancy is used to:
- check your baby’s size – at the dating scan, this gives a better idea of how many weeks pregnant you are; your due date, which is originally calculated from the first day of your last period, will be adjusted according to the ultrasound measurements
- check whether you’re having more than one baby
- detect some abnormalities
- show the position of your baby and the placenta – for example, when the placenta is low down in late pregnancy, a doctor will plan a safe delivery method with you.
- check that the baby is growing normally – this is particularly important if you’re carrying twins, or you have had problems in this pregnancy or a previous pregnancy.
- Reassurance to the mother and professionals that all is progressing well.
“Diagnostic ultrasound is an imaging modality that is useful in a wide range of clinical applications, and in particular, prenatal diagnosis. There is, to date, no evidence that diagnostic ultrasound has produced any harm to humans (including the developing fetus)”. BMUS 2000
How can ultrasound services ensure they are keeping us safe? Well in the UK we are lucky to have our National Health Service which offers our prenatal ultrasound screening and our health services are regulated by the Care Quality Commission which is employed by the Department of Health to regulate and inspect all health care providers, and this now includes all private health care companies too. When attending for your scan you can be assured the clinic will be governed by strict safety regulations to ensure the scan is performed on safe appropriate equipment by a trained clinician. There is lots of research looking at safety in pregnancy ultrasound, and for years we have yet to prove any real safety concerns when used safely. The guidance is provided by such regulatory bodies and medical imaging societies as follows:
- Ultrasound is to be used primarily as a diagnostic tool to ensure the health and wellbeing of the baby
- Limit the scanning times according to the nature of the exam and the patient
- Ensure the procedure is carried out by a trained competent professional
- Ensure equipment is safe and conforms to regulatory standards.
In short Ultrasound in pregnancy is widely used in health centres and clinics globally, and with amazing benefits and results. If you have been offered a scan in pregnancy and /or are thinking of attending a scan at a clinic and have questions or concerns all providers will be more than happy to offer you advice and guidance within their organisation.