Non-invasive method of producing pictures of parts of the body by exposing them to high-frequency sound waves is known as ultrasound imaging or sonography or ultrasound scanning. The images obtained thus are captured real-time, thus showing the movement, structure and blood flow of the internal organs. The equipment used for this purpose is known as ultrasound scanner which consists of a console, a video display screen and a transducer. The console contains a computer and electronics. High frequency, inaudible sound waves are sent into the parts of the body through the transducer in small pulses.
These waves bounce off the tissues producing a change in the pitch and direction of the sound. This change is again picked up by the transducer and then based on these echoed waves, the shape, size and consistency of the part of the body is deducted and a real-time image is created on the monitor (radiology info, n. d. ). Until recently only the conventional 2 dimensional images were being produced. However recent advances have led to the development of 3-dimentional and 4-dimentional images too.
Such images are very popular in obstetric scanning and are being used to view the baby in the pregnant mother. The 3D/4D images allow physicians and mothers to look at the features of the baby and also watch the baby move and grow (Wood, 2008). 3D pictures are produced by storing the echoed waves digitally and shading the life-like images of the baby. Adding element of movement to 3D pictures produces 4D pictures. However, the clarity and activity of the images depends on the gestational age and the position of the fetus at the time of scanning (Wood, 2008).
Benefits of 3D/4D ultrasound The most relieving benefit of the modern 3D/4D ultrasound is that there is no preparation needed prior to scanning. The conventional 2D ultrasound demanded full-bladder causing discomfort to the patient. Also, certain parts of the body like the arms, face, legs, toes and fingers are seen more clearly in the 3D/4D. Thus conditions like cleft palate are more easily detected in the modern ultrasound. Various movements of the fetus like smiling, crying, yawning, blinking, and moving fingers can be seen with 4D ultrasound.
Another benefit with this type of scanning is that the type of display is multiplanar allowing visual cut through of structures and organs in any plane. Thus even the fetal brain and its cavities can be studied (Wood, 2008). Studies have reported that 3D ultrasounds were much superior in determining fetal weight more appropriately. Also, 3D ultrasounds require lesser views, are easier to use, are more efficient and produce much clearer image when compared to 2D scanning (Wiseman and Kiehl, 2007).
Thus, 3D ultrasounds are able to analyze fetal abnormality in a better way. 3D ultrasound is superior to 2D in nuchal cord identification at term (Wiseman and Kiehl, 2007). 3D ultrasound can identify women who have chances of delivering early by measuring cervical length. 3D is also superior in gender identification, even in the first trimester (Wiseman and Kiehl, 2007). There is lot of potential to study neurological behavior of the fetus using 4D ultrasound (Wiseman and Kiehl, 2007).
On the whole, 3D/4D ultrasound gives an opportunity to expectant mothers to know and familiarize their babies much before they are born, thus creating bondage between mother and baby. The technology also allows visual confirmation of pregnancy and reassurance of well-being of the fetus. Risks of 3D/4D ultrasound Although no obvious risks have been identified with 3D/4D scanning as is the case with 2D scanning, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine warns against the possibility of biological effects of scanning which may be identified in future (Wood, 2008).
Even the American College of Radiology and The United States Food and Drug Administration warn against casual exposure to ultrasound especially during pregnancy. This warning comes in the light of shooting baby photos in malls using scanning machines. There are also concerns about possible thermal and mechanical damage to the fetus caused by sound waves which has led to the ALARA principle of exposure, meaning, the sonologists expose the fetus to ‘As Low As Reasonably Achievable’ doses of sound waves (Wiseman and Kiehl, 2007). Conclusion
3D/4D ultrasound scanning is a wonder technology which is gaining lot of importance in obstetric medicine. This method of scanning allows better visualization of the fetus and its parts, early and proper identification of anomalies and establishment of bond with the baby much before the baby is born. However, though there are no reports of side effects of these non-invasive procedures, researchers warn against the possibility of thermal and mechanical damage to the fetus, thus discouraging unnecessary exposure during pregnancy.
Research is warranted to discover the side effects of these wonder technologies. References RadiologyInfo. Obstetrical Ultrasound. Retrieved on 21st Feb. , 2009 from http://www. radiologyinfo. org/en/info. cfm? PG=obstetricus Wiseman, C. S. , and Kiehl, E. M. (2007). Picture Perfect: Benefits and Risk of Fetal 3D Ultrasound. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal and Child Nursing, 32(2), 102- 109. Wood, D. (2008). New Dimensions in Prenatal Ultrasound: 3D and 4D. Retrieved on 21st Feb. , 2009 from http://www. swedish. org/17337. cfm