Some things serendipitously fall into my lap. I had been thinking about writing a post like this for a while, and then today found someone who said it even better than I did (plus has done the research that I haven’t done!) — Ultrasound and Fury: One Mother’s Ordeal.
In short, her baby girl was diagnosed by three different doctors (including at least one specialist) as having club foot, so they spent the remainder of the pregnancy researching club foot, trying to come to terms with the diagnosis. At birth, the baby was perfectly normal. Other parents and babies aren’t that lucky — aborting babies who turned out to be healthy and normal, or continuing the pregnancy under a deep cloud at a diagnosis more serious than club foot.
There are some benefits of ultrasound — some parents have said that knowing their child’s diagnosis (when it was accurate) prior to birth helped them to prepare for their baby’s condition after birth, or to prepare for a stillbirth or a short life after birth. There are a few conditions that can be diagnosed prior to birth and either fixed prior to birth (extremely rare) or (occasionally) to be ready for immediate surgery or care at birth; however, the research the author cited showed that there was no significant benefit to having ultrasound done routinely, as opposed to it being done when there was reason to suspect something was wrong — such as the baby not seeming to be growing.
Of course, if you’re the parent of a child for whom ultrasound was a benefit, then it’s significant to you. However, if you’re the parent of a child who was wrongly diagnosed by ultrasound, it’s also significant to you.
This also doesn’t take into consideration that there may be harms of ultrasound even when there is no misdiagnosis. I’m convinced that most babies sense that there is something going on when an ultrasound or Doppler is aimed at them, even if it’s supposedly out of the range of hearing. Doppler was used on me during my first pregnancy to find the fetal heart-tones, and my baby ran from it every time — far too consistent for it to be a fluke. I’ve seen recent news about doctors trying to use a blast of ultrasound to render men sterile for 6 months. I’m assuming that this type of ultrasound is not exactly the same as what is used in a typical prenatal appointment — that it’s either stronger, longer, or more directly applied… but it still makes me wonder — if ultrasound can stop men from producing sperm for several months, what else can it do? Just like electricity can be used for good, powering this computer, it can also be used for bad, maiming or killing someone. I wish ultrasound were better studied, to make sure that it was only used for good, and keeping it from harming people as much as possible.
The use of ultrasound scanning during pregnancy is now so widespread it seems almost as banal as taking a patient’s blood pressure. Unlike amniocentesis, it is considered safe, noninvasive and painless for both mother and child. Formal studies indicate that 70 percent of all pregnant women get at least one scan, and the true number is probably higher, said Dr. E. O. Horger 3d, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia. If a woman does not request ultrasound, many obstetricians will recommend it, as mine did, ”just to see how things are going.” They make that suggestion even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other medical organizations advise against the routine use of ultrasound in pregnancy.