An ultrasound can detect many illnesses and conditions. While most parents hope to have a healthy and issue-free birth, sometimes issues do crop up. Combined with other tests, an ultrasound can be used to more accurately determine the health of your baby. If you have any concerns about your pregnancy, you should have a conversation with your doctor or midwife to alleviate any anxiety. While no amount of testing can rule out all potential issues, an ultrasound provides a safe and non-invasive way to determine the health of your baby.
How an Ultrasound Works
As the name suggests, an ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of your baby. Much like mammals in the ocean use sonar to build an image of the environment, ultrasounds can identify the form and shape of your baby. The sounds are so low that they can't be heard and they don't affect the health of the baby in a negative way. There is no radiation emitted in an ultrasound. More than 90 percent of women have at least one ultrasound during their pregnancy. Most commonly, ultrasounds are given at the 19/20 week mark.
Conditions Ultrasounds Detect
An ultrasound can detect and provide additional information for a doctor to make an assessment of the health of your baby. Ultrasounds determine if the baby is alive and how many babies are present. An ultrasound can also be used to discover the age of the baby in a dating scan. During an ultrasound, the baby is evaluated for proper growth and development. The scan can determine if the baby is properly formed or if the baby is lacking (for a lack of a better term) limbs.
An ultrasound is important when there are complications in a pregnancy. If you experience any bleeding, fluid loss or high blood pressure, an ultrasound can help determine if the baby is affected. Ultrasounds can also monitor the baby's health if the baby has gestational diabetes. The tests can also be used to check the location of the placenta and assess the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
An ultrasound can also be used to detect some more serious conditions and illnesses. If the baby has a chromosomal problem, the ultrasound can be used in conjunction with blood tests to rule out certain conditions. An ultrasound can be used as a screening test for Down Syndrome, and it can also be used to check the brain and the spine to identify neural tube defects, serious heart defects, kidney problems and cleft palate. An ultrasound may also complement other procedures to track the location of the baby during a chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis procedure. Both procedures can be used to identify potential birth defects.
During early pregnancy, a scan can be done to assess the viability of a pregnancy. The early scan is typically provided in the first few weeks and requires the woman to have a full bladder to get a better view of the baby by pushing the uterus out of the way. This scan can help identify possible reasons for vaginal bleeding and pain. It is also used to determine the health of the baby and the number of babies present. When this scan is completed to determine the age of the baby, it's known as a dating scan. It can be administered as early as six weeks.
A nuchal translucency scan can be provided to help rule out any chromosomal abnormalities. If you're concerned about the possibility of Down syndrome or another abnormality, this scan should be performed early on in your pregnancy. This scan is usually given at the 12-week point. However, it can be given as early as 11 weeks. The most common abnormalities include trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) and trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). This scan measures the thickness of the baby's nuchal fold, which is a fluid-filled sac on the back of the baby's neck. In combination with a blood test, a fairly accurate picture can be painted. You'll be able to determine the degree of risk for a chromosomal abnormality. If you want a conclusive diagnosis, you can have a chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis test completed. However, these tests have a slight risk of miscarriage.
A morphology or anomaly scan is typically conducted during week 19 or 20. This scan provides an examination of the entire body. The sonographer is able to check the entire body, including the heart and kidneys to ensure they are normal. An ultrasound can not detect all potential issues, but it is a good starting point and provides a safe option for evaluating your unborn child. The ultrasound can also give a good indication of the gender, but it's not always possible to know for certain. This is why it's good to have additional testing completed to provide a complete picture.
Scheduling an Ultrasound
An ultrasound can be completed at any time during the pregnancy. Ultrasounds can be given as early as five weeks. The best time to have an ultrasound should be determined in consultation with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to assess your physical condition and determine the best time for an exam. The exam is an outpatient procedure that can help protect your baby from harm.
Treatment of Conditions
If you discover that your child has an abnormality, there may be options available for you. Prenatal surgery is provided for babies that are not expected to survive birth or live without prenatal intervention. In most situations, these surgeries are used to help a baby who won't be able to breathe on their own after birth. These surgeries are extremely rare, and only a few hundred are performed each year.
Prenatal surgeries can be used to treat urinary tract obstructions in male fetuses, which can impact the health of the kidneys. It can also be used to treat a condition where the diaphragm doesn't completely close at about eight weeks. Known as a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, this condition results in a hole in the muscle separating the chest and the abdomen.
Congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation (CCAM) occurs when the lungs develop cysts instead of normal lung tissue. In most cases, these issues resolve on their own. However, larger cysts can cause complications and need to be treated. Heart failure is a risk for about 10 percent of babies afflicted with this condition.
Prenatal surgeries can also be used to remove tumors, correct congenital defects and treat lung malformations. There is also a birth defect that results in an opening of the abdominal wall called, omphalocele that prenatal surgery can help. There is also the potential for surgery to treat spina bifida, and it's been shown to provide a better alternative to treatment after birth.
Getting Additional Support
There are many support groups for parents who are dealing with a potential disease or condition. Genetic counseling is a good option for parents who want to discuss their options without invasive surgeries. Counselors can help you learn more about cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and neural tube defects. By meeting with a genetic counselor, you can also learn about other available support options.