Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Potential Risks of Ultrasound Examinations on Fetal Development

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Potential Risks of Ultrasound Examinations on Fetal Development

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Ultrasound examinations are a trusted diagnostic procedure in prenatal Healthcare. The benefits of ultrasound are numerous. However, research documents physical risks that must be taken seriously. Although many of these findings are inconclusive, they indicate that ultrasound examinations may not be totally benign. The following is an exploration of the current research available on the effects of ultrasound exposure on fetal development with discussion on potential physical, behavioral and psychological health risks.

KEY WORDS: Ultrasound, fetus, development.

INTRODUCTION

Ultrasound is a diagnostic tool that is commonly used during fetal development. The process uses high frequency sound waves to create life-like images of the fetus. Current research documents fetal risk factors associated with ultrasound examinations, however many of these findings are inconclusive. Further research is required to determine conclusive results on the effects of ultrasound on fetal development.

The psychological risk factors associated with ultrasound examination have yet to be researched. Early trauma experienced during the prenatal period is encoded in the implicit memory of the fetus (Thomson, 2004). Until data proves otherwise, the possibility of negative psychological implications as a result of ultrasound examinations could exist.

This paper examines the current research available on the effects of ultrasound exposure on fetal development with discussion on potential physical, behavioral, and psychological health risks.

INDICATIONS FOR ULTRASOUND

Ultrasound is a commonly used diagnostic tool during pregnancy for detailed examination of the developing fetus and placenta. According to Cigna (2005):

Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to produce dynamic images of organs, tissues, or blood-flow inside the body. The procedure involves the use of a transducer, which sends a stream of high-frequency sound waves into the body and detects their echoes as they bounce off internal structures. The sound waves are converted to electrical impulses, which are processed to form an image displayed on a computer monitor (p. 1).

In prenatal healthcare ultrasound is used to detect birth defects, fetal movement, breathing, heartbeat, determine expected due date (EDD), confirm site of pregnancy within uterus, determine number of fetuses, gender of fetus, and position of placenta (Rados, 2004).

Due to recent medical advances, intrauterine surgery is now possible when abnormalities are detected during ultrasound examinations (Kroeger & Smith, 2004). In addition, the benefit of ultrasound examinations during the first trimester has been documented as being a more accurate determinate of the estimated date of delivery (EDD) compared to estimates based on physical measurements and last menstrual cycle (Cigna, 2005). The use of ultrasound examinations to determine the EDD reduces errors in gestational age, which minimizes post-term labor-inductions and interventions (Cigna, 2005).

DIFFERENCES IN ULTRASOUNDS

Three different kinds of ultrasounds are used today, two-dimensional (2D), three-dimensional (3D), and four-dimensional (4D). 2D ultrasound is, and has been, the standard in ultrasound practice for the past thirty years (Cigna, 2005). 2D ultrasound captures series of thin image slices, which can be seen one at a time similar to a photograph (Cigna, 2005).

3D ultrasound provides added depth and clarity of images compared to the 2D ultrasound. Volumes of irregular or disconnected structures can be measured with added accuracy, automation, and ease (Cigna, 2005). In addition, "3D ultrasound allows for the evaluation of the presence of vessels in relation to surrounding anatomic structures" (Cigna, 2005, p. 2). 4D ultrasound offers the life-like fetal features captured in the 3D ultrasound in a real-time movie (Cigna, 2005). However, 3D and 4D ultrasounds use even higher frequencies than 2D ultrasounds, which potentially pose a greater risk factor to the developing fetus (Ang, Gluncic, Duque, Schafer, & Rakic, 2006). …

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