Pregnancy, Imaging Exams & “Keepsake” Videos

Pregnant? Congratulations! So when are going to have your first ultrasound? And how many?

“All imaging should be linked to a medical need-to-know rather than attempting to satisfy a ‘want to know,’” says James Duncan, MD, PhD, professor of radiology and vice chair for quality and safety at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. “While many of us have ultrasound pictures in the first pages of our child’s photo album, the purpose behind those ultrasound studies needs to be a medical one.”

Although ultrasound imaging is generally considered safe — it uses sound waves rather than ionizing radiation to create images — the effect of prolonged exposure of ultrasound energy on the fetus is unknown. Consequently, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the FDA discourage the use of prenatal ultrasounds designed solely to create “keepsake” timeline videos of an unborn baby.

“Imaging is used to address uncertainty regarding an illness or condition,” Duncan says. “While we try to avoid exams like CT scans or x-rays in pregnant patients, such studies become crucial in certain situations. For example, if a pregnant mother is involved in a car accident, concern for internal injuries can justify X-rays or a CT scan. Imaging may also be used to monitor ongoing medical problems that can progress during pregnancy. This can include severe infections and other issues.”

But are some imaging tests forbidden during pregnancy?

“Imaging exams necessary to preserve and/or help the mother’s health can always be justified since the baby’s health depends on the mother’s health,” continues Duncan. “Therefore, we can’t create a ‘never’ list of imaging studies. However, the risk/benefit decisions often change during pregnancy, and it’s often possible to acquire the same diagnostic information without X-rays or CT scans.”

Talk to your physician if you still have questions.