- Dr. Megan Westbrook
Ultrasound – More harm than good?
Only a couple generations ago, women were being x-rayed while pregnant. At that time, it was considered protocol and a safe way to monitor pregnancy. Decades pass and the FDA pronounce x-rays to be unsafe and the new way to track a woman’s pregnancy is through an ultrasound. We’ve all seen the pictures. They’ve been proudly posted on the fridge and online. You can even get a 3-D version of these pictures now! But how safe are ultrasounds, really? It was only a short time ago that x-rays were considered safe during pregnancy. Is it only a matter of time before this is renounced, as well?
The first question on most peoples’ minds would be: has there been research? Studies on ultrasound mostly ended in the 1980s, and animal studies have been dismissed. However, scientists in China have known the harmful effects of ultrasound since the 80’s. A large study involving 100 scientists and 2700 pregnant women determined that even a very low exposure of ultrasound can be detrimental to the human fetus. It was determined that sessions should only be between 3-5 minutes along with avoiding multiple sessions, as the hazards can be cumulative.
There are several ways that ultrasound can be harmful. First of all, it vibrates the fetus. Ultrasound waves reach a high frequency of about 20 megahertz or 20 million cycles per second. As these vibrations pass through matter, it can transfer energy from one point to another.
These ultrasound waves actually have a higher frequency than that of human hearing. However, it may be loud enough to affect fetal hearing development. A study performed in Minnesota found that when the ultrasound is pointed right at a hydrophone inside the uterus, it can register as loud as 100 decibels (110 decibels is the average human pain threshold).
Another hazard of ultrasound is that it is capable of deforming cell membranes, including brain cells. This deformation of cells may be another reason some individuals develop autism. It has been found that within the brain of an autistic person there is something that promotes the division of stem cells at a time that they should not be dividing.
These are just a few reasons to be wary of prolonged and repetitive ultrasounds. It is recommended that ultrasounds should be kept at a minimum and at a lower exposure. Make sure to educate yourself and make your own decision in regards to these procedures. It’s your baby and your body!