You are probably familiar with the word ‘sonogram’, but in case you aren’t, it is basically a non-invasive medical procedure to help the doctors diagnose and treat medical conditions. High frequency sound waves are used to produce specific images of what is inside your body. The procedure is known as ultrasound and the image produced is called a sonogram, sonography or sonogram imaging.
Sonograms are mostly used for diagnosis but it is not limited to only that. They can be used for screening as well as monitoring therapy in various cases. Sonograms are a fantastic method to have a look into your internal organs and detect any significant changes in them. You are likely to be told by your physician to get a sonogram in a large number of instances – from bowel problems to bladder issues to even pregnancy.
How is an ultrasound done?
The procedure is quite simple. You are told to lie down and expose the part of the body that needs the scan. A sticky gel is rubbed onto that area and a device called a transducer is rubbed over the gel. The process can last from five minutes to even half an hour, depending upon the areas that need to be scanned. You might feel a bit of discomfort temporarily when your physician presses the transducer hard for better visuals.
How does it work?
The secret of viewing your internal organs lie in directing high frequency sound waves that the transducer emits towards and through your body. These waves create echoes that bounce off from the structures inside your body and get recorded by technicians. These echoes have their own frequencies which can be measured and converted into an image with the help of a computer.
Since solids and fluids reflect echoes of different frequencies, an ultrasound is particularly sensitive at these interfaces. No wonder that doctors swear by ultrasounds when it comes to viewing your fetus and recording its movements in real time. Now you know why you are sent for sonograms when you are pregnant.
When are ultrasounds usually done during pregnancies?
A mom-to-be generally gets at least two sonograms during her pregnancy. It can be done anytime during the first three months of pregnancy in order to confirm or date it and determine the number of fetuses. If you would like to hear your fetus’s heartbeat during the ultrasound, you must get it done after 5-6 weeks. In most cases, the fetus’s heart is formed by then.
A level 2 ultrasound (fancy name for a full anatomy scan) is performed by a trained sonographer with sophisticated equipments between week 18 and week 22. High risk pregnancies or women carrying multiple fetuses are frequently told to get scans, sometimes in addition to other tests, for constant monitoring.
What the different kinds of ultrasounds?
There are some basic differences that help us classify ultrasounds into six categories: Doppler, Obstetric, 3D and 4D, Carotid, and Echocardiogram. The dissimilarity mostly lies in the way images are produced and the fundamental working of the equipments.
The 3D and 4D ultrasounds are especially fascinating because unlike conventional ultrasounds that produce flat images, 3D sonograms have the images formatted in three-dimensional form by the computer, and 4D ultrasounds are simply 3D ones in motion – like a real time video.
3D sonograms are not usually part of a prenatal exam, but your obstetrician may order one in case he wants a detailed view of any suspected fetal anomalies. They are officially recommended only if deemed medically essential.
Are ultrasounds safe?
The general opinion is that ultrasounds are low-risk. There is a possibility that overuse may result in unintended complications in the long term, but there is hardly any evidence to back that up. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Food and Drug Administration discourage ultrasounds anyway, unless medically necessary.
Technically speaking, getting a 3D or 4D sonogram is as safe as a 2D one, but having them for a souvenir photo or recording implies you are exposing yourself and your fetus to more ultrasound for a longer period of time than medically necessary. Although there is no scientific proof regarding this, exposure to high frequency waves over recommended safety limits may do some silent harm that we don’t know yet.
Overall, getting a sonogram once in a while doesn’t hurt, especially when it’s your doctor who has recommended one. Now that you know all about what a sonogram is and how you can have one, be sure not to delay it the next time you need one.