Are ultrasound scans necessary?
By the mid-eighties more than 100 million people throughout the world had experienced ultrasound scans before they were born. Today, practically every pregnant woman in Europe and in North America will have at least one ultrasound scan during her pregnancy. Most expectant women receive their first referral for a scan during their first ante-natal appointment; only a few of them question whether it is necessary and even fewer know of its potential harm. Most women’s magazines, newspapers, and pregnancy books tend to recommend ultrasound scans to ensure the safety and healthy development of the fetus, despite the fact that no study proves that having an ultrasound scan provides more benefits than not having one. In an official statement, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) admitted that no well-controlled study has yet proven that routine scanning of prenatal patients will improve the outcome of pregnancy.
On the other hand, researchers in New York studied 15,000 pregnant women who received ultrasound scans. They concluded that scanning provided no benefits whatsoever in any of the risk categories such as premature babies, fetal death, multiple births, late-term-pregnancies, etc. In fact, up to this date, ultrasound scans have not revealed any information that is of clinical value. On the contrary, there is more evidence today than ever before that scans can be harmful for both the mother and the unborn child. The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS), England, recorded cases of women who aborted their perfectly fit and healthy babies as a result of misinterpreted scans. It is almost impossible to estimate how many women went through similar ordeals since most cases are not reported.
In 1990 researchers in Finland conducted a large trial study with ultrasound. The ultrasound scans diagnosed 250 women with placenta previa in early pregnancy, a condition where the placenta lies low and therefore may prevent the baby from being born vaginally. The mothers were informed that they should expect a Caesarean section. But when it came to giving birth, only 4 women still had placenta previa. In almost all cases, the placenta moved out of the way when the womb began to grow. Ironically, the control group, which received no ultrasound scanning also had 4 women with placenta previa; all of them delivered their babies safely.
Human Guinea Pigs
Despite the fact that respected medical journals like the Lancet, The Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the New England Journal of Medicine have all written about the hazardous effects of ultrasound use, mainstream medicine has all but ignored the negative evidence. Even the FDA has commented on the dangers of ultrasound. According to a story by the Associated Press, their position on the technique is this: “Ultrasound is a form of energy, and even at low levels, laboratory studies have shown that it can produce physical effects in tissue, such as jarring vibrations and a rise in temperature… prenatal ultrasounds can’t be considered innocuous.”
Millions of women around the world, without being aware of the potential health hazards of ultrasounds, are participating in the largest medical experiment of all times. Their babies are the guinea pigs in this experiment. They become vulnerable to external and internal harmful influences when their delicate electromagnetic fields are distorted, misaligned or damaged by highly concentrated doses of ultrasound; exposure to that is neither natural nor suitable for any human being. We cannot solely rely on machines for diagnostic purposes just because machines are considered less likely to make mistakes than doctors. All findings have to be interpreted properly before they can serve as a guide for treatment. As demonstrated in the above study, 98.4 percent of the initial complications during the women’s pregnancy cleared on their own simply because the body knows how to handle such problems perfectly well without intervention. Machines don’t know that the readings they produce may actually turn out to be a wrong diagnosis.
A false diagnosis is not the only disadvantage that may arise from using ultrasound indiscriminately. In 1993 Australian researchers studied 3,000 women and found that frequent ultrasound scanning between 18 and 38 weeks of pregnancy could produce babies up to a third smaller than normal. Similar studies revealed that babies who had received Doppler ultrasound (to scan the baby’s blood supply) had a lower birth weight than babies who didn’t receive a scan.
If the birth weight of a baby is reduced through ultrasound, what about other functions which are even more important for a baby’s growth? One professor in Calgary, Canada, discovered that children developed speech problems twice as often when exposed to ultrasound in the womb. Surgeon James Campbell from Canada found that even one prenatal scan may be sufficient to cause delayed speech. Norwegian studies suggested ultrasound scanning might even lead to mild brain damage in the developing fetus.
One large-scale Swedish study showed a link between ultrasound scanning and left-handedness, which is often the result of slight prenatal brain damage. The study revealed a 32 percent greater chance of left-handedness among the ultrasound group when compared to an un-scanned control group. Needless to say, since 1975, when doctors started aggressive ultrasound scanning late in pregnancy (usually to determine the baby’s sex), rates of left-handedness have increased dramatically – especially among male babies.
Ultrasound was approved as a medical tool of diagnosis under a different category than that used to approve drugs. Science has not yet studied the effects of using these different powers of energy. As long as this is the case, ultrasound examinations are under the umbrella of ‘legal protection’. The complete lack of scientific research backing up the safety of ultrasound scans should caution both doctors and pregnant women.
Yet the scanning of pregnant woman has become such a routine practice today that not many women want to go without it. Scans give parents the opportunity to get to know their baby long before it is born, although women were able to be in touch with their babies before the invention of ultrasound. Today you can find out whether your baby is male or female, which leaves no room for surprises. You can also get the exact date of delivery although, provided there are no complications, you can calculate the birth date of your child yourself. An ultrasound scan may reveal if a baby suffers from Down’s syndrome but it doesn’t tell you how serious the condition is. The added information that ultrasound can give makes little or no difference because babies in general cannot be treated before or shortly after birth. After examining all the results from published trials using ultrasound scans, a team of doctors from Switzerland failed to come up with evidence suggesting that the use of ultrasound could improve the condition of the babies.
Furthermore, a large trial study in the United States concluded that receiving an ultrasound scan produced no difference in prenatal mortality rates or in sick babies than not receiving an ultrasound. What is most disconcerting, however, is that the latest ultrasound technology is to be introduced into use without any trials. It consists of a vaginal probe that is covered by a condom and inserted directly into the woman’s vagina. With the new technology, doctors will get an even better picture of the fetus but the baby will also get a much higher dose of ultrasound.
Even though an increasing number of health professionals are very concerned about the wholesale use of scans, pregnant women are not informed about the possible harmful consequences that accompany their use. Scans are prescribed routinely but you have the right to refuse one. An ultrasound scan should only be considered if a woman suffers localized pain or complications for which a doctor or midwife cannot find a plausible reason. Such cases though are rare. As for now, ultrasound has been repeatedly shown to make no difference whatsoever to the outcome of a normal pregnancy.