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Health & Pregnancy

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Prenatal Portraits: Darling or Dangerous?

Many businesses offer ultrasound pictures and videos of unborn babies for entertainment purposes, but some experts say these fun pictures could be harmful.

The Souvenir Sonogram Frontier continued...

Some prenatal portrait centers claim they first obtain approval from their clients' doctors before performing any ultrasounds. Others take the keepsake images after a limited diagnostic scan or conduct the entertainment screens after hours in doctors' offices.

The diverse makeup of each keepsake ultrasound business makes it difficult for the FDA to take action. In the past, officials have sent warning letters to rule breakers and seized equipment.

The federal government has limited power and staff to stem the growth of keepsake ultrasound entities, however. The agency only has the authority to regulate the sale and distribution of medical devices. Jurisdiction over ultrasound services and behavior of technicians and doctors belong to the individual states.

Nonetheless, because of the increasing number of entertainment ultrasound businesses, the government is currently reviewing its enforcement options.

The Power of Imaging

In medicine, the advantages and disadvantages of procedures and treatments are constantly evaluated. As Patricia D. Stahr, executive director of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine remarks, "Risk exists in everything."

For her and for her organization, the risk of a keepsake ultrasound outweighs its benefits. "I wouldn't undergo any procedure that may cause a harmful effect unless I had to," says Stahr.

The Society endorses the AIUM's statement on ultrasounds, which recommends use only when there is a medical need. Other groups that support this position include the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

According to the AIUM, diagnostic ultrasound has been around since the late 1950s. Since its use, there has been no significant evidence showing imaging harms patients or operators. One problem is that it would be unethical to expose people to ultrasound energy for research purposes.

Officials at the FDA point to research suggesting prenatal ultrasound exposure may cause delayed speech in children and left-handedness in boys. In higher doses, ultrasound energy can raise temperature in metals and treat bone fractures, sprains, and pulled muscles.

The power of ultrasound energy must be respected, say experts.

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