4D Ultrasound Imaging: Worth the Hype?

May 24, 2016 Current Events | News

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in what’s known as 4D ultrasound imaging. 4D ultrasound imaging differs from 2D/3D imaging as it provides live video streaming of the area being examined. To date, this technology is mostly being used to provide fetal keepsake videos. The practice, while widely considered harmless, may deserve a closer inspection.

4D imaging captures the clinical data needed to determine the well-being and growth rate of the fetus, just as 2D and 3D imaging do. However, it provides the added benefit of showcasing the baby’s facial features. This practice can have immediate benefits in that it may foster earlier parental bonding and healthier maternal habits during pregnancy. In addition, this type of ultrasound technology can detect facial deformities such as cleft palate and neural tube/skeletal defects.

However, 4D scans were never intended to be utilized outside of hospital and clinic walls, a practice which is rapidly expanding. According to the US Food and Drug Administration Consumer Updates in late 2014:

“Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important,” says Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer. “Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.

The long-term effects of tissue heating and cavitation are not known. Therefore, ultrasound scans should be done only when there is a medical need, based on a prescription, and performed by appropriately-trained operators. Fetal keepsake videos are controversial because there is no medical benefit gained from exposing the fetus to ultrasound. FDA is aware of several enterprises in the U.S. that are commercializing ultrasonic imaging by making fetal keepsake videos. In some cases, the ultrasound machine may be used for as long as an hour to get a video of the fetus.

While FDA recognizes that fetal imaging can promote bonding between the parents and the developing fetus, such opportunities are routinely provided during prenatal care. In creating fetal keepsake videos, there is no control on how long a single imaging session will last, how many sessions will take place, or whether the ultrasound systems will be operated properly. By contrast, Veazy says, ‘Proper use of ultrasound equipment pursuant to a prescription ensures that a woman will receive professional care that contributes to her health and to the health of her fetus.”

For now, it sounds like it’s better to be safe than sorry and wait to see your baby’s lovely features until her birth day!

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