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Is Ultrasound Scanning During Pregnancy Worth the Risks?
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Dec 20, 2004
While ultrasound scanning doesn't pose the same dangers to human and fetal health as ionizing radiation, it is a mistake to think that ultrasound is entirely safe for a baby growing in your womb.
Ultrasound scanning works by sending sound waves into your tissues. As these sound waves bounce off of your tissues, a picture is created.
These sound waves are capable of producing the following physiological effects:
- Increase in blood flow and temperature in local tissues
- Production of gas bubbles that can put pressure on local tissues
- Mechanical effects like movement of the fluid that surrounds your cells, which can also put pressure on local tissues
The conventional view on ultrasound scanning during pregnancy is that the intensity and duration of sound waves that are used for scanning are not enough to produce these physiological effects at a level that is harmful to a fetus.
I believe that this conventional view is influenced by the number of dollars that are being made by this industry.
Before you allow ultrasound scanning to be performed during pregnancy, please consider the following points:
- Ultrasound scanning of pregnant women has been shown to significantly increase the likelihood of miscarriage, preterm labour, and even infant mortality.
- Pregnant physiotherapists who provided ultrasound treatments for more than 20 hours per week were found to have an increased risk for spontaneous abortions.
- One of the reasons used to support ultrasound scanning for pregnant women is that it can help to diagnose a condition called placental praevia. This is a condition where the placenta is implanted in the lower part of a woman's uterus, which can cause bleeding in the third trimester and increase her chance of being encouraged to have a caesarean section. A study of 4000 women found that of 250 women who were scanned and diagnosed with placental praevia, only 4 actually had placental praevia upon delivery. Who knows how many unnecessary caesareans have been done and how much needless anxiety women have experienced due to incorrect diagnoses of placental praevia wiith ultrasound?
- Using ultrasound scanning to detect serious problems before birth does not necessarily save lives or reduce illness. There is evidence to suggest that using ultrasound to attempt to detect problems while a baby is in the womb can do more harm than good.
- There is evidence to support that children who have been exposed to ultrasound while in their mothers' bellies have a greater chance of suffering from dyslexia and other speech and learning problems than children who have not been exposed to ultrasound.
Ultimately, the two main reasons why I believe that it is best to avoid ultrasound scanning during pregnancy are:
- No matter what intensity and duration of ultrasound waves are used, there is always a possibility of these waves creating unnecessary thermal and physical pressure to a growing baby. Why take this risk?
- There is always a possibility of practitioner error and/or a defective machine that can result in a higher than intended dose of ultrasonic waves to your baby.
For more information on why you should think twice before having ultrasound scanning done while pregnant, please read: Ultrasound? Unsound, by Beverley Beech. Copies are available from AIMS.
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