Ultrasound Scans During Pregnancy - Are They Safe?

Ultrasound scans are a common method to evaluate the development of an unborn baby in today’s world. Increasingly, more and more mothers are opting for this process. But, how safe is it?

By M Brahadeesh

Ultrasound Scans During Pregnancy - Are They Safe?

It’s a special moment for every expectant mother when she gets to see a life growing inside her. Doctors advise a mother to undergo at least five scans during pregnancy to ascertain the growth and development of the baby for both normal and high-risk cases.

Over the years, the use of ultrasound scans has increased at a rapid pace. This can be attributed to scans being more accessible and affordable. Scans are used by doctors to gather accurate information of a fetus’ growth, its position in the womb etc. throughout the pregnancy period.

However, most mothers have apprehensions on the safety of these scans, whether they could harm the unborn fetus. The long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposure on a fetus are not fully known and there are no conclusive shreds of evidence to support this.

What is the required number of scans during a pregnancy?

Scan frequency can vary from person to person. All pregnant women should have at least one scan in the first trimester but most get two. If yours is a low-risk pregnancy, you may have four or five scans during your entire pregnancy. 

A scan in 20 weeks is the minimum required number of scans, which is advised by gynaecologists for normal pregnancies. A slow growth detected in the fetus might call for a scan once in two weeks. This is to ensure the fertilized egg has embedded itself, the baby’s heart is beating right, to detect an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants outside the womb usually in the Fallopian tube), assess the risk of Down’s syndrome by measuring fluid at back of the baby’s neck at 11 to 13 weeks, check how the blood flows between your placenta and baby etc. 

An ultrasound scan is vital for the gynaecologists to assess the pregnancy and the infant’s development throughout the period.

Rapid growth of ultrasound scans:

Since the 1960s, ultrasound has replaced X-rays as the primary method of fetal imaging in pregnancy. Ultrasound is an ultra high-frequency sound wave which generates an image to view the fetus in the uterus. The sound waves are above the range of human hearing. From a transducer or a probe placed deep within the vagina or on the surface of the abdomen, sound waves are emitted at millions of cycles per second. This pattern of echoes creates a picture from a variety of surfaces from fluid and soft tissues to a bone skeleton.

The third trimester of pregnancy is the most difficult period for expecting mothers. The baby is due any moment and utmost care must be taken of the mother’s health to prevent any untoward incidents. Read the article below to know what to eat and what exercises to do during this trimester.

Routine scans usually are:

  • Dating and viability scan (between 6 and 9 weeks)
  • Nuchal translucency scan (also called early morphology scan between 11 and 13 weeks).
  • Anomaly scan (between 18 and 20 weeks)
  • Growth scan (between 28 and 32 weeks )
  • Growth scan (between 36 and 40 weeks) 

A slow growth detected in the fetus might call for a scan once in two weeks, to ensure the fertilized egg has embedded itself, the baby’s heart is beating right, to detect an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants outside the womb usually in the Fallopian tube), assess the risk of Down’s syndrome by measuring fluid at back of the baby’s neck at 11 to 13 weeks, check how the blood flows between your placenta and baby etc. 

An ultrasound scan is vital for the gynaecologists to assess the pregnancy and the infant’s development throughout the period.

The usual types of ultrasound scans are a Transabdominal ultrasound and Transvaginal ultrasound.

1) Transabdominal scan:

Is performed in such a way that a tiny layer of gel is applied on the belly which helps the sound waves travel easily to capture a better picture of the baby. This usually takes about 20 minutes and is a painless procedure.

Know more about the ultrasound, including the functioning, how it can detect various diseases and more by going through this ClipBook.

2) Transvaginal ultrasound scan:

Is performed through the vagina (Birth canal) with the help of a transducer. This procedure could be painful if the bladder is not empty or half filled.

There are more advanced ultrasounds to fetch information about the baby like Doppler, 3D, 4D etc.

Doppler ultrasound is a more advanced scanning procedure, which can check the baby’s blood flow in case of abnormality in growth. 3D ultrasound takes thousands of pictures at once which will help the provider to monitor Baby’s growth more accurately and 4D ultrasound could capture baby’s movement in the video.

Ultrasound scans can give useful and reliable information about one's pregnancy. They help your gynaecologist assess how your pregnancy is progressing and plan for any treatment if required. Of course, most women find scans reassuring and are simply delighted to see their baby on the screen!

The author is President - Imaging Trivitron Healthcare

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