Ultrasound in Pregnancy: Definition
Ultrasound is an imaging test that can be used for many different reasons. Ultrasound uses reflected sound waves instead of x-rays to create pictures of the internal organs. This makes it a safer alternative for internal images during pregnancy.
If you are pregnant, your doctor may recommend this procedure for you. Here is some information on the types and uses of ultrasound, and what you can expect if you have one.
It is not necessary for every pregnant woman to have ultrasound. However, it is an excellent way to determine the age of the fetus if the dates of the last menstrual period are not known. The procedure is often used, along with a medical history and physical exams, to screen for problems or monitor a condition. Your healthcare provider will discuss with you the use of ultrasound to monitor your pregnancy.
Ultrasound helps to determine whether the fetus is growing properly. If there is an abnormality, your healthcare provider may be able to help you reduce risks to yourself and the growing fetus. Ultrasound is used to detect:
- The number of fetuses
- The age of the fetus
- The size of the fetus and rate of growth
- The heart rate, breathing, position, and movement of the fetus
- The location of the placenta
- The amount of amniotic fluid in the uterus
- Certain types of birth defects, including some that affect the heart, head, chest, spine, and limbs
A vaginal ultrasound is similar the above ultrasound, but the ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina rather than placed on the abdomen. Vaginal ultrasound is used to:
- Detect an ectopic pregnancy
- Determine the cause of bleeding or pain
- Assess the length of the cervix if there is concern that it is short
- Detect certain birth defects early in the pregnancy
Doppler ultrasound provides sound that can be heard through amplification. It is used to monitor the fetal heartbeat before or during labor. It is also used to measure the flow of blood within the vessels of the uterus, umbilical cord, and fetus.
Last reviewedDecember 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.