Ultrasonography (also known as Medical sonography) is a diagnostic medical imaging technique used to visualize many internal organs, their size, structure and any pathological lesions with real time tomographic images. It is also used to visualize a fetus during routine and emergency prenatal care. Ultrasound scans are performed by medical health care professionals called sonographers. Obstetric sonography is commonly used during pregnancy. Ultrasound has been used to image the human body for at least 50 years. It is one of the most widely used diagnostic tools in modern medicine. The technology is relatively inexpensive and portable, especially when compared with modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT).

As currently applied in the medical environment, ultrasound poses no known risks to the patient. Sonography is generally described as a "safe test" because it does not use ionizing radiation, which imposes hazards, such as cancer production and chromosome breakage. A typical fetal scan, including evaluation for fetal malformations, typically takes 10-30 minutes. Obstetric ultrasound can be used to identify many conditions that would be harmful to the mother and the baby. For this reason many health care professionals consider that the risk of leaving these conditions undiagnosed is much greater than the very small risk, if any, associated with undergoing the scan.

Obstetric ultrasound is primarily used to:
  • Date the pregnancy (gestational age)
  • Confirm fetal viability
  • Determine location of fetus, intrauterine vs. ectopic
  • Check the location of the placenta in relation to the cervix
  • Check for the number of fetuses (multiple pregnancy)
  • Check for major physical abnormalities
  • Assess fetal growth (for evidence of intrauterine growth restriction [IUGR])
  • Check for fetal movement and heartbeat
  • Determine the sex of the baby
A nuchal scan is a sonographic prenatal screening scan (ultrasound) to help identify higher risks of Down syndrome in developing babies. The scan is carried out at 11-14 weeks pregnancy and assesses the amount of fluid behind the neck of the fetus - also known as 'the nuchal translucency'. Babies at risk of Down tend to have a higher amount of fluid around the neck. The scan may also help confirm both the accuracy of the pregnancy dates and the fetal viability. Its high definition imaging may also detect other less common chromosomal abnormalities.
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