3D and 4D pregnancy ultrasound scanning

Posted on December 17, 2011

3D ultrasound scans are created by a computer which can assemble an image by analysing the results of several ultrasound scans made at various angles. 4D scans are a more sophisticated version whereby a phased array of transducers is able to produce an image that moves in real time, made possible only by increased computing power. They have become popular with parents who wish to view an image of their unborn foetus which is more realistic, accessible and understandable than that created by a more traditional 2D scan, and unsurprisingly find this to be more reassuring as well as comprehensible. Often, parents elect to have a number of scans, in order to observe the growth and development of the foetus. A large business has grown around providing this service, which often includes printouts and DVDs of the scan as keepsakes. Although 3D and 4D scans are not commonly used by obstetric practitioners, there is a large amount of research in the field which has suggested some promising ideas for potential medical applications, such as the prenatal diagnosis of cerebral palsy. There is also interest in the capacity of 4D scans to aid research into embryonic and foetal developmental pathology.

The current practice of using 3D and 4D scans is controversial for a number of reasons. Firstly, despite a large amount of research into the subject, the effects of long periods of exposure to more intense ultrasound are unknown, and there is great difficulty in the regulation of the intensities and durations use in 3D and 4D scans. Secondly, because such scans are provided by private firms which may or may not include trained obstetricians and gynaecologists, mistakes can be made in the interpretation of the image which may be highly distressing for the parents. Operational error can also create distressing results, such as an image that shows false positives for various abnormalities and deformities, even though none are present. Sometimes large parts of the anatomy are shown to be missing in a scan performed by an incompetent operator. Of course, problems such as these can be alleviated if the firm is able to offer more comprehensive obstetric and gynaecological care packages. In addition, it can sometimes be upsetting or perturbing for parents to see a foetus in the early stages of gestation, although they do often appreciate it and find it interesting. It has been argued that seeing the foetus at an early stage both helps and hinders in the process of parents bonding with their baby, but this is of course a highly subjective matter and dependent of a great number of factors.

This entry was posted in News, Obstetric

Tom Farrell

Written by Tom Farrell

Tom Farrell works in both the NHS and private sector providing gynaecology, pregnancy ultrasound and maternity care clinics in the Jessop Wing (NHS) and BMI Thornbury & Claremont Hospital (Private sector) in Sheffield.

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