Ultrasound technology is used in health care for diagnosis and treatment. During pregnancy, ultrasound is usually a diagnostic aid to evaluate the status of the developing baby and detect abnormailities. Ultrasound may be used therapeutically to treat a musculoskeletal problems in the pregnant woman. In either case, ultrasound is considered relatively safe as long as a few precautions are observed.
Obstetricians often use ultrasound to screen for fetal abnormalities, monitor growth and development of the fetus and to otherwise check the progress of a pregnancy. While use of ultrasound for medical monitoring and diagnosis is considered safe during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine recommend against nonmedical use of ultrasound for the creation of keepsakes of momentos. AIUM notes that the energy involved with inappropriate use of ultrasound imaging may cause unrecognized and potentially harmful effects.
Chiropractors sometimes recommend ultrasound to help treat certain conditions. Ultrasound units send sound vibrations -- at frequencies too high for us to hear -- deep within the tissues of the body. This produces small vibrations and heat at deeper levels than are achieved by applying external heat sources. The vibration and thermal effects of therapeutic ultrasound are greater than those of diagnostic ultrasound.
According to the American Chiropractic Association's publication "Applied Physiotherapy," therapeutic ultrasound may be safe to use in the treatment of bursitis, muscle pain, arthritis, sprains, strains, tendinitis, and other musculoskeletal conditions. However, special precautions must be observed when treating pregnant women.
Because of the potential to overheat the fetus, Canadian government health guidelines strongly caution against applying therapeutic ultrasound in any area of the body which is likely to result in exposure to the fetus. High temperatures may damage the tissues and organs of the developing baby. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration urges pregnant women to inform their health care provider before undergoing therapeutic ultrasound therapy, also known as ultrasonic diathermy.
Because therapy units direct ultrasound waves fairly specifically, it is possible to administer ultrasound therapy to parts of the body away from the womb without potentially exposing the fetus. The American Chiropractic Association's "Applied Physiotherapy" also cautions against using therapeutic ultrasound directly over the uterus of a pregnant woman.
Tell all of your health care providers if you even suspect you may be pregnant. This allows health care professionals to choose and recommend the most appropriate treatments after weighing potential risks and benefits.
Ask about the potential risks of any treatment in the context of your pregnancy. If you feel uncomfortable with a recommendation for therapeutic ultrasound, express your concerns and ask about other treatment options.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Guidelines for Ultrasonography in Pregnancy
- Applied Physiotherapy; Paul Jaskoviak, D.C. and R.C. Schafer, D.C.
- Health Canada: Guidelines for the Safe Use of Ultrasound
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Nonmedical Use of Obstetric Ultrasonography
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine: Keepsake Fetal Imaging
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Ultrasonic Therapy Product or Ultrasonic Diathermy