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August 08, 2020  
MEDTECH NEWS: Technology & Innovation

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  • Ultrasonography

    #7 - Ultrasonography

    September 10, 2002

    By Hannah Clark, MedTech1 Staff

    Could you be a candidate for an ultrasound?

    When most people think of ultrasound, they think of pregnancy. This is, of course, a common use of the procedure: pregnant women use ultrasound to determine the health and gender of their baby.

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    But the technique, which uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the body's internal structures, has functions as diverse as the body parts themselves. Doctors use ultrasound to scan for everything from glass under the skin to abdominal aortic aneurysms. They can examine your eye for damage, sometimes without even touching it. The entirely safe procedure is performed on patients suffering everything from testicular pain to a heart attack.

    This was not the case as little as five or six years ago, says Dr. Michael Blaivas, director of Emergency Ultrasound at the Medical College of Georgia, and president of the American Emergency Ultrasonographic Society.

    In the emergency room, a doctor might be dealing with a heart attack, a car accident and a woman in labor all within 50 feet of each other. Machines in the ER must be portable, and they must have multiple uses. “We had to wait for machines to become smaller and smaller so we can travel between patients,” Dr. Blaivas said. Now, one machine comes with four attachments—one for transvaginal ultrasound, another for the heart, a third for the abdomen and a fourth for examining the eye, testicles or skin. The four probes have more than a dozen applications between them.

    The result is that emergency room doctors can answer questions immediately, instead of just using the “wait-and-see” technique. If someone is in pain and an aneurysm is suspected, the doctor can use ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis or rule it out in under a minute. “Before, you afraid that the person was literally dying before your eyes,” Dr. Blaivas said.

    Though its use has expanded, ultrasound is still indispensable in gynecology and obstetrics as well. For a pregnant woman, ultrasound can confirm a pregnancy, date it, and determine the placental location, fetal size, age and any anatomy malformations. “It's perhaps one of the best exams the fetus will ever have in its life,” said Dr. Larry Platt, Director of the Center for Fetal Medicine and Women's Ultrasound and professor of Clinical Obstetrics at UCLW. Ultrasound can also be used to guide fetal therapy and surgery.

    Sound wave imaging is also an integral part of in-vitro fertilization. It is used to diagnose possible sources of infertility, and it guides the process when the fertilized egg is transferred to the uterus from a petri dish. “Without ultrasound, you don't have IVF,” Dr. Platt said.

    Twenty years ago, Dr. Platt said, the technique could be used only to view the placenta and some abnormalities. In 1974, digital technology greatly enhanced the picture. The 1980s saw the rise of color ultrasound, with better resolution and better equipment. And 3-D, real-time imaging arrived in the 1990s.

    The future of sound wave imaging seems almost limitless. It is currently being tested as a way to cure problems, not just diagnose them. In one Harvard study, researchers are using it to shrink fibroids. In the future, Dr. Platt said, it will be used to generate heat and coagulate blood vessels. This can be used to keep the dominant twin from stealing the other twin's nutrients in the womb.

    Ultrasound may also join the fight against cancer. In one study in which Dr. Platt is involved, researchers are trying to use it to burn breast tumors.

    “Every year there's another major advance,” Dr. Platt said.

    American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine
    American Emergency Ultrasonographic Society.
    Ultrasound on Body1

    Transvaginal ultrasound on Body1

    Last updated: 10-Sep-02


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