3D and 4D Ultrasound

3D UltrasoundThere have been recent innovations in the ultrasound industry, 3D ultrasound has taken the previous imaging and revolutionized how we see the pictures, 4D ultrasound has expanded on this technology even further.

What is 3D and 4D ultrasound?

At its most basic level, 3D ultrasound is a method of scanning the internals of a person and generating a 3 dimensional image. While most commonly associated with obstetric ultrasonography and tracking fetal growth throughout pregnancy, it has also helped provide revolutionary techniques in other medical areas. The more modern 4 dimensional ultrasound is based on a similar principle however the extra variable is time. Instead of there being a delay whilst the computer generates the 3D image and shows it as a static picture, 4D imaging can show the images in real-time. This can provide additional uses for the technology that are even now still being thought of.

When most people think of ultrasound images, they think of the old 2D baby images proud mums used to show around at work. These images are produced by using a machine called a transducer that sends out sound waves operating on a frequency above the range of human hearing (about 20,000 hertz). These sound waves then bounce off internal structures inside the body (such as organs) and produce echoes which are reflected back to the transducer. The transducer is attached to a computer which then processes the time taken for these echoes to be received and from this it can work out a distance and therefor build up a picture from these calculations. The entire process is very similar to that of echolocation used by bats to move around and hunt.

3D and 4D ultrasound puts a slight technical spin on this technique in order to produce a next generation result. While in 2D ultrasound the transducer sends and reflects these ultrasound frequencies directly down on a single axis, 3 and 4 dimensional ultrasound however sends ultrasound waves in from multiple angles. The computer then collates all the different results and combines them into a single 3 dimensional image. Not only does this make it easier for the sonographers and physicians to identify any potential abnormalities from the image, but it also has an impact on early bonding relationships between mother and child when used in obstetrics. The 3D and 4D images are much clearer than their 2D counterparts and allow the parents to really see their child, instead of having to almost be told what area was what in the 2 dimensional images previously. It is benefits such as this which make it a truly revolutionary invention, when it positively impacts on the experiences of both medical professionals and patients.

A Video Overview

Below we have collected a short video featuring a 3D ultrasound taking place and interviewing the parents undergoing the procedure, along side talking about some of the potential benefits and difficulties involved with a 3D scan

Sex Determination

Mothers love 3d baby images, this is an area of medical scanning which has seen massive growth during recent years due to enthusiastic parents and its many beneficial effects. Although it is possible to see the sex of a baby as early as 12 weeks many hospitals do not provide the option of a sex determination during scan until 20 weeks to ensure the accuracy and best possibility of succeeding.

3D ultrasound centers fill this development gap to provide the service to patients who are excited and want to find out as soon as possible to help future planning. For these centers the percentage success rate is 50% at 15 weeks, although the accuracy of any judgment at this age is questionable. By 16 weeks however a baby’s ultrasound scan allows far better accuracy and the success rate rises to a massive 99%.

When is the best time to have a 3d ultrasound scan?

You get the best results for a 3D ultrasound between 24-32 weeks. To make sure you get the best quality baby pictures from your 3D ultrasound the time would ideally be between 26 and 30 weeks.

The reason for this time period is if the scan is done too early (especially before 17 weeks) then it can result in scans that don’t look like a “real” baby. If done after 32 weeks, there is an increased chance the fetus has already descended into the pelvis and this makes getting high quality images extremely difficult if not nigh on impossible.

Potential Side Effects

First of all it is probably safest to specify that there is no proven link of any actual harm caused by ultrasound scans to humans either fully grown or in their fetal developmental state. Even so a lot of care is taken with regards to obstetric ultrasound with a “just in case” precautionary frame of mind.

This can take many forms, for instance obstetric ultrasound machines have their energy limited to below what a normal machine can produce at 94 mW/cm2. There are other potential side effects that can result from 3D ultrasound scans; one particularly unforeseen consequence is that the machine can actually be too good. Due to the improved imaging capabilities the machine can pick up far more information than previously and this can lead to false positives. Cysts that form on a fetus and are totally harmless may not have been picked up previously however often are on a 3 dimensional scan and this can cause needless stress to a mother.

Also as mentioned previously a mother seeing a 3D image of her child can help relationship bonding form at a prenatal stage. However if a 3D scan is taken before 17 weeks it can unfortunately have the opposite effect. Due to the early stage of development it can make the baby seem alien to the mother or “not really a baby yet”, this has led to recommendations that mothers do not undergo any 3D scans until after the 17 week period.

Future Developments

While 3D sonography was invented as early as 1987, it is still only recently that it is becoming part of routine care and support given to medical patients. As new methods of treatment are being discovered the technology is becoming ever more widespread. 3D and 4D ultrasounds are beginning to be used in areas such as fetal heart anomalies, while in the future there are plans to perhaps use them for neurological and behavioural testing of a fetus to diagnose or rule out cerebral palsy. There have even been tests recently where the scanning has been done in a rural location, and the information transmitted to a central processing hub which can then construct the image and even do such things as print out the scanned image on 3 dimensional printers. This not only lowers the cost of the equipment involved, but also makes it easier for the sonographer to concentrate solely on scanning efficiently.

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