Is this a case of too much of a good thing? According to Canadian researchers, ultrasound use over the past decade has surged, with approximately 20 percent of all moms-to-be—including those with low-risk pregnancies—now receiving four or more ultrasounds during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Published online January 4, 2010, by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the study examined health records from almost 1.4 million pregnancies over a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006, including both low-risk and high-risk pregnancies. Researchers found that more than a third of all pregnant women received three ultrasounds during the second and third trimesters and 20 percent received four or more. Oddly, women with low-risk pregnancies were most likely to have received the highest number of ultrasounds.
Current guidelines in Canada and the US generally recommend one or two ultrasounds through the course of an uncomplicated pregnancy. The sharp rise in ultrasound use, researchers speculate, may be partly due to such factors as doctors erring on the side of caution, the desire of physicians to reduce patient anxiety, requests from mothers, and even the "entertainment value of seeing one's fetus."
So what's the big deal, anyway? Isn't it good to make sure that Baby is OK? Not necessarily, according to the study.
"While the benefits of prenatal ultrasound in high-risk pregnancies may be more clear, the value of repeat ultrasounds in low-risk patients is not," wrote researchers, noting that benign findings on ultrasounds may lead to unnecessary amniocentesis and other invasive procedures.