Jan 06, 2015 2:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Home ultrasound parties and 3-D/4-D imaging centers may sound like fun for expectant parents, but experts warn they may have risks.

In late 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert discouraging so-called keepsake ultrasounds. Ultrasound scans should be performed only when there is a medical need and by a trained operator, it advised. 

“Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important,” explains FDA biomedical engineer Shahram Vaezy, PhD, in the alert. “Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.”

Brandon L. Reynolds, DO, an OB/GYN at University of Utah Health, seconds the notion that little is known about the long-term risks of fetal ultrasounds. 

“There have been no long-term, in-depth studies to determine the risk, but we do know there’s a theoretical risk of emboli in the fetus,” he explains. 

There are no time limits when keepsake ultrasounds are performed, he says, which increases the risk of a potential poor outcome. Some may take as long as an hour. A medical ultrasound, on the other hand, is done quickly and efficiently.

Reynolds says two ultrasound scans are typically recommended for nonrisky pregnancies. The first is a dating ultrasound, performed between seven and 11 weeks, and the second is an anatomical scan, performed around 18 to 20 weeks. 

Any ultrasounds not prescribed by a doctor are risky.

“Keepsake ultrasounds are not regulated despite what imaging centers may say,” Reynolds cautions. And if you chose to get one, “you are taking a risk, with no benefit to your baby.”


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