Fetal Ultrasounds Not For Entertainment, Keepsakes

February 24, 2014
Diagnostic Imaging Staff

Ultrasound imaging used to identify fetal sex without a medical indication is becoming a public health issue and should be discouraged.

Ultrasounds should not be used solely to identify fetal sex unless there is a medical indication for the scan, according to a joint statement issued by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Association of Radiologists, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

The easy availability of ultrasound and its perceived safety by the public has led to an increase in “entertainment” ultrasounds performed by non-medical clinics to determine fetal sex during the first trimester of pregnancy and to offer “keepsake” photos.

However, the staff at such clinics may not have the training, expertise, nor medical backgrounds required to safely perform such examinations. In addition, the operators may not have the expertise to identify potential problems for both mother and child, possibly resulting in a false sense of security, and there is the risk of false-positive diagnosis, which adds to anxiety and possible extra unnecessary testing.

While no danger has yet been absolutely determined regarding the use of ultrasounds during pregnancy, there is a theoretical risk to the fetus.

“Of particular concern are recent studies in animal models that report subtle effects on the physiology and development of the fetal brain,” the authors wrote.

Health Canada does not recommend that ultrasounds be used in this fashion and the FDA views entertainment or “keepsake” ultrasounds as unapproved use of a medical device.

“The FDA cautions that those who subject individuals to ultrasound exposure using a diagnostic ultrasound device (a prescription device) without a physician’s order may be in violation of state or local laws or regulations regarding use of a prescription medical device,” the organizations noted.

The two associations are calling on governments to join with them and find a solution to this public health issue.