Study: Penetrative ultrasounds may result in slight increase of autism risk

Study: Penetrative ultrasounds may result in slight increase of autism risk

This new study proves that unless wave penetration is deep, generally ultrasound risks to foetus will not include autism. Read on to know more.

When a woman gets pregnant, she waits impatiently to “see” her little one through an ultrasound scan. And it’s incredible when that happens. However, have you ever thought about ultrasound risks to foetus possibilities, with autism being one of these risks? 

Ultrasound risks to foetus: Autism

new study published in JAMA Pediatrics and meant to uncover ultrasound risks to foetus has revealed some important information about the link between getting this scan, and autism. There is good news and slightly bad news. 

The good news is that women who get more ultrasounds during their pregnancy were not more prone to giving birth to a baby with autism than those who had fewer scans.

But, women who had more penetrative ultrasounds were likely to give birth to children with autism. 

The depth of penetration may increase ultrasound risks to foetus

“Depth of penetration has to do with the distance between the ultrasound transducer (probe) on the skin and the point at what you’re looking at on the ultrasound,” Dr Jodi Abbott, co-author of the new study and a physician with Boston Medical Center, US, told CNN.

This depth, the experts explain, is the deepest and farthest point where the ultrasound beams reach. 

How depth of ultrasound waves affect the baby

Experts suggest it is this depth of the beam that has everything to do with ultrasound risks to foetus. 

Dr. Jacques S. Abramowicz, chair, Safety Committee of the World Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, explained, “It has nothing to do with where the foetus and his/her parts are. The depth could indicate 20 centimetres and the fetus could be at 12 centimetres.” 

ultrasound risks to foetus

Ultrasound risks to foetus: This study revealed that children with autism spectrum disorder were not less exposed to prenatal ultrasound. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

A study published in the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine further delves into understanding this depth. It proves that wave absorption through the various layers of tissue increases with frequency. So the higher the frequency, the shallower the penetration. 

In addition, Dr Abbott says, “Depth of penetration varies based on the size of the woman and the amount of tissue that she has on her belly between the transducer and the foetus.” 

As for mothers whose kids were not born with autism but developed it later, Abbott said this could be due to the mother’s abdominal fat.

“The scans of children who later were diagnosed with autism did go a little deeper into the mother’s abdomen, the researchers found. It could be because those mothers had more abdominal fat,” Abbott told NBC News.  

Ultrasound risks to foetus: no need for alarm

While there is a small connection between the depth of ultrasound penetration and autism risk, this study is reassuring at the same time. 

“This small study reports reassuring findings that children with autism spectrum disorder were less exposed to prenatal ultrasound and that the ultrasound energy used during the examination was no different compared to children without autism spectrum disorder,” Dr Basky Thilaganathan told NBC News.

He is a spokesperson for the Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

In other words, unless penetration is deep, an ultrasound scan will not affect an unborn child. 

5 routine pregnancy scans

Irrespective, an ultrasound can reveal a lot about your baby. And, typically you may be subject to five scans during your pregnancy:

  • Dating and viability scan. This scan checks the position of the baby and the placenta inside the uterus. A mother usually undergoes this scan between the 6th and 9th week of pregnancy.
  • Nuchal translucency (NT) scan. An expecting mum undergoes this scan between 11 and 13 weeks. It confirms any abnormality in the foetus.
  • Anomaly scan. You may undergo this between 18 and 20 weeks. It is undertaken to check the foetus’ movements and its development.
  • Growth scan. This pregnancy scan is carried out between 28 and 32 weeks. It checks the womb for overall development of the baby.
  • Colour Doppler scan. This pregnancy scan is carried out between 36 and 40 weeks. It is done to check your baby’s health, since by the end of the 38th week, you are ready to deliver.


Sources: CNN, NBC News

ALSO READ: Ultrasound exposure during first trimester can heighten the severity of autism 

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore


Written by

Deepshikha Punj

app info
get app banner