Fetal ultrasound is a test done during pregnancy that uses
reflected sound waves to produce a picture of a
fetus, the organ that nourishes the fetus (placenta), and the liquid that surrounds the fetus
(amniotic fluid). The picture is displayed on a TV
screen and may be in black and white or in color. The pictures are also called
a sonogram, echogram, or scan, and they may be saved as part of your baby's
Fetal ultrasound is the safest way to check for problems
and get information about your fetus, such as its size and position. It does
X-rays or other types of radiation that may harm your
fetus. It can be done as early as the 5th week of pregnancy. The sex of your
fetus can sometimes be determined by about the 18th week of pregnancy.
A combination of screening tests using ultrasound may be
done in the first
trimester to look for
birth defects, such as Down syndrome. The
first-trimester screening test uses an ultrasound measurement of the
thickness of the skin at the back of the baby's neck (nuchal translucency) and
the blood levels of free beta-HCG and a protein called pregnancy-associated
plasma protein A (PAPP-A) to check for problems.
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Fetal ultrasound is done to learn about the health of the fetus. Different
information is gained at different times (trimesters) during your
Transvaginal ultrasound is generally done early in a
pregnancy to determine fetal age or to detect a suspected
ectopic pregnancy. It is occasionally done late in
pregnancy to determine the location of the placenta or in a high-risk pregnancy
to monitor the length of the
You may need a full
bladder for the test. If so, you will be
asked to drink water or other liquids just before the test and to avoid
urinating before or during the test. Usually women in the third trimester do not need to have a full bladder.
transvaginal fetal ultrasound, the vaginal transducer is usually covered with a
latex sleeve and a vaginal lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly. If you are allergic to
latex, tell the health professional before having the test.
to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the fetal
ultrasound, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To
help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
Most often, a fetal ultrasound is
performed by an ultrasound technologist. But it may be done by a
obstetrician. Fetal ultrasound can be done in a
doctor's office, hospital, or clinic.
Often you do not need to remove
your clothes for the ultrasound test. You can lift your shirt and push down the
waistband of your skirt or pants. If you are wearing a dress, you will be given
a cloth or paper covering to use during the test.
When the test is finished, the gel is cleaned off of your
skin. You can urinate as soon as the test is done. Transabdominal ultrasound
takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
Ultrasound technologists are trained
to gather images of your fetus but cannot tell you whether it looks normal or
not. Your doctor will share this information with you after the
ultrasound images have been reviewed by a radiologist or
Transvaginal ultrasound takes about 15 to 30
During a transabdominal ultrasound, you
may have a feeling of pressure in your bladder. The gel may feel cool when it
is first applied to your belly. You will feel a light pressure from the
transducer as it passes over your belly.
There is normally no
discomfort involved with a transvaginal ultrasound. You may feel a light
pressure when the transducer is moved in your vagina.
There are no known risks linked with a fetal
ultrasound, either to the mother or fetus. But you may feel anxious if the
ultrasound reveals a problem with your pregnancy or fetus.
"Keepsake video operations" are ultrasound centers that sell ultrasound videos
as your baby's first photo. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
recommends ultrasound scans only to obtain medical information about the fetus.
Keepsake video operations may use the ultrasound machine at higher energy
levels and for longer times than needed to get a "good picture."
A fetal ultrasound scan uses reflected
sound waves to produce a picture of your
fetus, the organ that nourishes your fetus (placenta), and the liquid that surrounds your fetus
You may not receive
information about the test right away. Full results are usually available in 1
or 2 days.
Many conditions can change fetal ultrasound results. Your
doctor will discuss any significant abnormal results with you in
relation to your past health.
Fetal ultrasound results may be
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(ACOG) is a nonprofit organization of professionals who provide health care for
women, including teens. The ACOG Resource Center publishes manuals and patient
education materials. The Web publications section of the site has patient
education pamphlets on many women's health topics, including reproductive
health, breast-feeding, violence, and quitting smoking.
Other Works ConsultedAmerican College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009, reaffirmed 2011). Ultrasonography in pregnancy. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 101. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113(2): 451–461.Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
June 18, 2012
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
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