Are Sonograms Safe?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2020
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Sonograms are procedures that are utilized by obstetricians to identify the presence and development of a fetus. Often referred to as an ultrasound or sonograph, the sonogram is widely used, especially after the fetus is eight weeks old. While the use of the procedure is widespread, there are some continuing concerns about the safety of sonography in general and its use in pregnancy screening in particular.

One of the main concerns connected with the sonogram is the use of sound waves to transmit images that can be used to evaluate the status of the unborn child. There is certainly evidence that the use of sound waves can create heat that is damaging to human tissue. However, this sort of activity requires the use of very high frequencies of sound waves. Equipment used in sonography requires only the utilization of low frequency sound waves and thus far there is no evidence that they cause any damage to the fetus.

There is also some concern that while sonograms do not cause any apparent tissue damage, they may have a negative impact on the proper development of the brain. Specifically, there is a fear that the sound waves cause some type of neurological damage that will manifest itself as a learning disability later in life. Because it is not unusual for obstetricians to order an ultrasound exam during the sixteen to twenty-two week period when brain development is taking place, some wonder if the invasive sounds waves could somehow impair that development.

To date, there is no proof that sonograms cause any type of learning disability or brain defect. Testing done on human subjects has been conducted using increasingly sophisticated methods, and has found no evidence of any type of impact on brain function, positive or negative. However, testing with some animals has yielded a few situations where there is some apparent brain damage that is connected with the use of ultrasounds. Because of these test results, there is ongoing research into the possible ill effects of sonograms on human fetuses.

While many people regard sonograms as a test to determine the gender of an unborn child, the procedure is more often utilized to monitor the progress of development, or to identify the origin of some unusual pain or discomfort experienced by the mother, such as pain accompanied by bleeding. This means that some women may not undergo a sonogram until the last trimester of the pregnancy, or possibly not undergo the procedure at all. Even most people with concerns about damage to tissue tend to concede that the fetus is usually hardy enough by the third trimester to not be adversely affected by the emission of low sound waves used in this type of testing.

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