Ultrasound proven unsafe

Ultrasound technology has been used on pregnant women for over 30 years. Because it has been so long, most people have assumed that the lack of large-scale studies on its safety is irrevelant because nothing earth-shattering has happened so far. But is that what the developers were looking for? To the contrary, when asked what problems should be looked for in human studies, researcher Lieberskind responded:

“Subtle ones. I’d look for possible behavioral changes, in reflexces, IQ, attention span.” (Bolson, 1982)

Since then, marketing has done wonders to public beliefs about ultrasound, and all warnings about overuse have been discarded. What sort of warnings?

  • Miscarriage twice as common among those at risk for premature labor after ultrasound exposure compared to controls with the same risk status (Lorenz et al., 1990)
  • Miscarriages after 16-20 weeks more common after ultrasound (Saari-Kemppainen et al., 1990)
  • Ultrasound at 19-22 weeks and 32 weeks resulted in miscarriage rate 4x higher than those without ultrasound exposure (Davies et al., 1993)
  • Ultrasound technicians significantly more likely to miscarry while pregnant (Taskinen et al., 1990)

And that’s just the research on ultrasound’s effect on the miscarriage rate! Other study results showed that ultrasound:

  •  did little to benefit deformed babies, and those diagnosed by ultrasound were more likely to die before birth
  •  increased the premature birth rate
  • increased the NICU use by 3x for babies diagnosed by ultrasound with growth restriction compared to undiagnosed IUGR babies
  • increased the false-positive rate of IUGR
  • did not improve the outcome for women diagnosed with placenta previa
  • increased the rate of unnecessary cesarean sections
  • increased the rate of emotional trauma due to misdiagnoses by ultrasound screening
  • increase in occurence of dyslexia
  • increase in childhood hospital visits
  • increase in speech problems
  • increase in left-handedness (showing effects on the brain)
  • and decreased birth weight

For information on all the research referenced above, please read this article published on Midwifery Today, and the next time your doctor recommends an ultrasound, think to yourself, will my baby really benefit from this? Or can we get the information we need by less invasive efforts?

 

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11 comments

  1. While I don’t have any evidence to the offer to the contrary, this article and it’s subject is completely off base from a logical and scientific standpoint. Outside of scientific circles, correlative data is far too commonly used as “proof” when in fact it does not indicate causality. To use an example borrowed from an old professor, “the rate of rape increases in parallel with the rate of ice cream sales”. While this is true, it only links a common factor; warm weather. Similarly, many of the above statements are likely only due to a common factor. Perhaps in the case of miscarraige, the increased rate may be due to the same symptom/cause/problem that induced the doctor to order an ultrasound to begin with. That would be like saying migraines are caused by aspirin because many people have headaches five minutes after taking it while ignoring the fact that they had the headache first.

    Also, I can’t help but notice the dates on those citations. If there was any solid evidence twenty years ago that ultrasounds were unsafe, I seriously doubt it would be common practice now. In addition, while the first half of the article cites a publication for each statement, the rest leaves the reader to assume someone actually did some math without any idea as to the way the study was organized. Please don’t use statements from the literature without citations.

    And finally, this article concerns me because it may lead someone not to use a trusted and _probably_ safe diagnostic method that could save their child or themselves because they misunderstood the research.

    Sonya Iverson
    Research Associate in a developmental biology lab at Montana State University

  2. I agree that there is a big fat grey area over this issue, and I don’t think it is at all irresponsible for you, as a blogger, to highlight this ambiguity. However you are wrong to say that ultrasound has been proven unsafe; it simply has not been proven safe.
    That, in itself, is a very worrying fact when it is something that is routinely carried out on most unborn babies in the developed world at least once – and any person in their right mind should be worried enough about this alone without having to carry the false belief that it has been proven unsafe.
    Proof is not the same as evidence. What you have here is evidence, and what Sonya provided in her response was also evidence (such as “the rate of rape increases in parallel with the rate of ice cream sales” correlative example). Both are very valid points that need to be taken into consideration, and one is no more proof than another because, as Sonya has said, correlation and causation has not been taken into account here. Evidence doesn’t need to be presented in the form of a copied and pasted list compiled by other researchers to be valid.
    I think your point would have a lot more weight in terms of credibility if presented as what it actually is – worrying and compelling evidence that may point to ultrasound being linked with miscarriage and other negative side effects presenting a need for further research to be undertaken – than a false statement of proof.

    1. Thank you for sharing Rachel. You should see my most recent post on ultrasound entitled, The Safety of Prenatal Ultrasound, which has additional, more recent information. Ultrasound doesn’t result in death or morbidity with every baby exposed to it, and when the benefits outweigh the risks it should bee used, but complications, including fetal death are proven to be more common among those exposed to series ultrasound, and it is not a procedure to be used lightly! Please check out the newer post and let us know what you think.

  3. It’s a no- brain-er really. How can cells that have been subjected to ultra sound be the same as those which have not? The earlier the exposure the greater the impact. On-going exposure can only increase any change that has happened. I think that in the long term we are going to regret the degree to which we have invaded the sacred womb space. I have worked with people who are survivors of attempted abortions. They have taught me that what happened to them has had horrific long term effects on them.

  4. I’m trying… I’ve tried to find your references. I’m typically quite proficient at searching science journal databases. I cannot find the 1st journal reference (Lorenz), the 2nd one (Saari) leads me to an abstract that discusses their findings of decreased perinatal mortality with an early ultrasound screening added to standard care, while I didn’t search through the full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1974940 . I can’t find the Davies reference, I did see the Taskinen abstract referred to, where they had some findings that were not found to be statistically significant. I’m interested in seeing the other references referred to and to know what I missed in the Saari.

    1. I apologize Linda, I would look for updated links, but my internet access is limited to my phone for the next couple of weeks. I’ll see what I can do at that point!

  5. I would like to commend you for posting this, while I am a bit late on reading it. I have found very little on the web about miscarriage linked to ultrasound exposure, and I am glad your post is available for others who are searching. I have read the studies you have cited, and it is absolutely astounding that they have been ignored, as you have stated. I myself had an experience with this, and to me its proof enough, but the sources made it even more concrete in my mind that an ultrasound caused the demise of my twins. After an early ultrasound, my twins were dated, and said to be measuring 6 weeks, and 6 weeks 1 day respectively. They both had great heart rates and the pregnancy was healthy. 4 weeks later, at yet another ultrasound, they were dated to be 6 weeks 1 day, and 6 weeks 2 days. I found it very difficult to come to terms with my doctors explanation that they had simply coincidentally passed on at exactly the same time, which “coincidentally” was mere hours after my ultrasound the first time. I will never again subject my self or children to early ultrasound, no matter the cost in the relationship I have with my doctor. I will never forget the feeling of finding out that just hours after we found out my pregnancy was twins, my sweet babies passed away. It will never leave my heart, the thought of how they suffered while we so excitedly shared the news of twins with family. Thank you again for your post, and I will be returning to your blog in the future. Take care.

    1. I am so sorry for the loss of your babies, Christina. They say ultrasound is considered safe because some believe it hasn’t been proven unsafe, but with stories like yours and many others, it is hard to believe that ultrasound can be used as extensively as it has been with such approval. Perhaps if more women who have had your experience share their story, we may be able to change that. Thank you for sharing!

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