Ah . . . one of my favorite things on this beautiful planet of ours is a beautiful sunny day at the beach. I love almost nothing more than that warmth on my skin and my toes buried in sugar-white sand. How about this shot, huh? Taken by yours truly on just such a day! However, because there is no good without its constant bad companion, our basking near the shore also leaves us susceptible to waves of radiation. Shoulder burns. Skin cancer. But let’s not confuse these waves with the sound waves of your diagnostic ultrasound! This post is dedicated to ultrasound safety, what ultrasound is, and what it isn’t.
First, let me help some of you moms out there relax right off the bat. The idea that ultrasound is a form of radiation is a complete untruth, rumor, or misconception. The technology behind ultrasound has long been documented–since its inception for medicine in the early 1900s. Anyone who has studied ultrasound, as well as every physician, engineer, and manufacturing company in relation to the technology can attest that ultrasound emits sound waves, not radiation waves. Those who have conducted biohazard testing in the field over the past forty years can do the same.
Despite what you may have read or heard, regardless of where, please do not believe this garbage! I hope you’ll read more about it here below. And please do not let this scare you away from your diagnostic scans. Your obstetrician is in the business of taking care of you and your baby–not to willingly subject you to radiation . . .
What Exactly is Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is just that. Ultra Sound, or sound waves that work at a frequency far beyond human hearing. Like a fish-finder one might use on a boat. Or sonar used by the military. Human hearing ranges from about 20Hz (Hertz) to 20,000Hz (or 20kHz). When it comes to creating an ultrasound image, we work in the MHz range or millions of Hertz. An OB probe ranges from about 2MHz – 13MHz.
Ultrasound is a department of Radiology within a hospital, but it does not emit radiation.
Someone Is Spreading the Wealth
The heading is meant to be facetious. Unfortunately, someone is spreading only fear and proliferating ultrasound misinformation. Apparently, she is also someone who hasn’t done her homework. I was floored recently while doing research for my book when I came across a very popular pregnancy book (which will remain nameless) who actually wrote that ultrasound is radiation. If you have read this book, you know who I am referencing here.
She also claims that the Doppler used by physicians to obtain heart tones emits more radiation than scanning equipment! Wrong again, Doppler is ultrasound.
How does this happen? After all, she supposedly had the help of “knowledgeable” medical resources to write the book. Are they the only healthcare providers on the planet who don’t know Ultrasound is not X-Ray? And if not, why not?
I am unaware if this author has since recanted her falsehood. If she did, I give her credit. If not, she owes an explanation and apology to her faithful readers and social media followers. She is incorrectly influencing millions of parents-to-be with this misinformation, and it’s not okay. She is adding needless fuel to the fire, and moms worry about enough as it is.
Additionally, she then goes on to advise moms to only have an ultrasound if they really want one but to not have more than they need. To me, this begs the question…is it radiation or is it okay?
I would like to think she did not intentionally mislead her readership. But as a published author, ignorance is no excuse.
What is Radiation?
It is a transfer of energy that also travels in waves. As I mentioned at the start, radiation is found in light from the sun, microwaves, and X-Rays. But not sound waves. And, yes, exposure to radiation can cause cancer. One example is skin cancer from too much sun exposure.
Consider this. When you go to the dentist, what is the first thing asked of any woman? “Is it possible you might be pregnant?” If the answer is “Yes” or “I’m not sure,” they shield your belly to protect Baby from the minuscule dose of radiation from the super quick X-Ray of your teeth.
If an obstetrician’s job is to manage the health and care of Mother and Baby, and it is, why then would docs expose their patients directly to radiation? And what about sonographers? We all would be directly exposed numerous times a day, every week for the duration of our careers. None of us, patients nor sonographers times decades, have died from cancer due to ultrasound exposure.
Is Ultrasound Safe?
So far, with the prudent use of commercial technology, there have been no known bioeffects on the fetus, mother, or sonographer. Biohazard testing over decades has demonstrated the creation of heat in fetal tissues during higher than recommended settings and extended scanning times. The long-term effects are still being studied. Therefore, it is the feeling of ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACR (American College of Radiology), and the AIUM (American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine) that the benefits outweigh the risk, and they justify the use of ultrasound only for diagnostic purposes.
They do not endorse the private entertainment ultrasound scan in the strip mall near you. These facilities are not regulated to maintain the same standards as medical practices for patient safety. They are not required to hire formally-trained and credentialled sonographers or to properly clean or maintain ultrasound probes or equipment. Be sure to do your research prior to scheduling your appointment in one of these facilities!
My Two Cents
One of the reasons I started this blog five years ago is because patients were misinformed – by Dr. Google, family, or friends. I expect as much from a random non-medical blogger, and I became even more enraged to find misinformation doled out on popular pregnancy sites. But in a published book? Unforgivable!
It’s one thing to express one’s opinion. But when you’re making tons of money by persuading expectant moms to adopt your line of thinking, you have the responsibility to get your info right. No one says anyone has to be a fan of ultrasound. And as a mom, you have the right to decline. Before you do so, speak with your provider. You need only to understand your choice. Any mom who ever delivered a baby with serious problems was happy to know about it in advance for planning and educational, emotional, and delivery purposes. This, in fact, is the purpose of obstetric ultrasound.
And if you’re all about moms and choices, and those choices are power? The power only comes from a parent who makes an informed choice, not one based on misinformation. It is my wish and goal to simply and accurately explain ultrasound for moms-to-be and stamp out the misconceptions. Understanding is also power. 🙂 I hope this helps you expectant mamas-to-be sleep a little better tonight.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and informed pregnancy!
As always, thanks for reading!
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