3 facts you may not know about 4D ultrasounds.

For most of us, the first image anyone saw of us was on an ultrasound. Ultrasounds have been a part of the pregnancy journey for decades, and they are also an important tool in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases.

As technology continues to advance, 4D ultrasounds give physicians an additional tool to get a detailed look inside the body. But 4D ultrasounds may not be right for everyone. This article will explain more about 4D ultrasounds and whether they are right for you.

What is an ultrasound?

Before we get into the specifics of 4D ultrasounds, let’s take a step back and look at ultrasounds more generally. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce real-time images of structures inside your body. It allows doctors to examine organs, vessels, and tissues without making an incision. Unlike other imaging methods, ultrasounds do not use radiation, which is why it is used to view the fetus and uterus during pregnancy.

“An ultrasound works by sending high-frequency sound waves through the body. When the waves hit an object, like an organ or bone, they are reflected back and captured by a computer, which produces an image, much like how sonar and radar work,” said Dr. George F. Guirguis, a Perinatology Doctor with Penn Highlands Perinatal Consultants.

The images produced by an ultrasound provide doctors with detailed information that they use to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases and conditions, such as gallbladder disease, thyroid issues and joint inflammation, as well as for pregnancy ultrasounds.

The use of 3D and 4D ultrasound technology was also utilized prior to pregnancy to identify structural congenital anomalies as well as uterine fibroids. The technology has allowed for optimized visualization of planes that were not previously attainable with routine 2D sonography. 3D and 4D ultrasounds are also used to evaluate patients for abnormality invasive placentation. This assists with preconception counseling & planning including surgical precision for the gynecological surgeon.

What makes an ultrasound 4D?

A traditional ultrasound (the type of ultrasound generally associated with pregnancy) produces a flat 2D image. A 3D ultrasound combines multiple 2D images to produce a 3D image. 4D ultrasounds use recent technological developments to produce a live video. This allows doctors to see how organs, structures and blood flow are moving within the body.

Fact #1: 4D ultrasounds can measure fetal brain development.

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, researchers discovered that by observing fetal movements and facial expressions for an extended period, they could develop a distinction between normal and abnormal fetal behavior patterns which might make possible the early recognition of fetal brain impairment.

Fact #2: 4D ultrasounds aren’t necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

For many expectant mothers, your doctor will recommend a traditional ultrasound or a 3D ultrasound, which are just as effective for monitoring the baby’s development and the health of the cervix. Typically, a doctor will only recommend a 4D ultrasound if there is a medical reason to do so.

Fact #3: Some “4D ultrasounds” are not real 4D ultrasounds.

Ultrasounds should only be performed by a certified radiologist in a healthcare setting. While you may see centers (particularly within malls and shopping centers) advertising “4D ultrasounds” that give you a video of your baby to take home, these centers often do not use medical-grade equipment or certified specialists. In fact, these ultrasounds may actually cause harm to you or your baby.

“While 4D ultrasound is a promising technology, it may not make sense to use it in every case” said Dr. Guirguis. “As with all medical decisions, talk to your primary care provider or obstetrician to determine what’s best for you.”

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers state-of-the-art imaging and radiology services throughout the region. For more information, visit www.phhealthcare.org/imaging.