Non-Diagnostic 3D 4D Ultrasound v. Medical 2D Diagnostic Ultrasound

In the previous blog, we were discussing the safety of ultrasound sonograms, the quality of ultrasound equipment, and the qualifications of sonographers. Assume that you have already booked an appointment with a licensed technician, and the studio is using advanced 3d 4d ultrasound equipment.

Can pregnant women trust a sonographer in 3d imaging center with their health?

Some people would say that a technician who performs a session for non-diagnostic purposes would not reflect on the condition of a pregnant woman. They say that a technician would only pay attention to the quality of images and videos while performing a session. Those critics need to understand how the session is performed.

Some techniques a technician will use to render 3d images.

During their pregnancies, women naturally have experienced physical changes in their bodies. Some of them might gain extra weight, the others would suffer dehydration if they don’t consume an adequate amount of liquid. Those conditions create additional obstacles for the sonographers to obtain clear ultrasound images. The beam of the machine via a special obstetrical probe or transducer has to penetrate the body’s extra fat tissues. That could lead to poor quality of the images. One way to get around that problem is to apply some extra pressure on the stomach of a pregnant woman, which could be painful. That is why every experienced sonographer would always inquire from a patient how she feels at every moment during a time of rendering images.

Medical diagnostic 2d ultrasound appointments environment.

During a diagnostic medical ultrasound session a sonographer less concerns how a woman feels during the appointment. The main goal here would be taking some important measurements of the baby’s organs as quickly as possible. That is especially true during the first trimester of the pregnancy when the fetus is under 13 weeks of development. At that time, every baby’s movement would make a technician re-set a starting point to continue the measurements. Women also tend to bear with any unpleasant feelings and cooperate during a medical ultrasound because they believe it relates to their babies’ health.

Non-diagnostic 2d, 3d, 4d ultrasound session’s environment.

During a non-diagnostic session, and 3d 4d ultrasound session in particular, pregnant women experience a very different environment. Instead of being calm and speechless, the women expect to enjoy themselves while viewing their babies, often on a big-screen TV. Most of the time, women feel in command during ultrasound sessions for non-diagnostics purposes.

Some false facts regarding 3d 4d ultrasound sessions.  

In some blogs, we could find the following information. “If they [sonographers] see something they are uncomfortable with, they may not be prepared to provide you with information, support, or follow-up. In those cases, you may need to go to your doctor for another ultrasound. This can result in unnecessary anxiety and concern.”
That is strange reading because ultrasound technicians in doctors’ offices aren’t allowed to talk to patients regarding the procedure at all. That is entirely different from the environment during taken 3d keepsakes. Moms-to-be and also dads-to-be will try to use all time during the session to ask questions about everything that they see on the screens during the sessions.

Treatment rooms in commercial non-diagnostic imaging centers are usually spacious and would accommodate many people as an opposite to a treatment room in a doctor’s office. As a result, any member of a family attending an ultrasound session is allowed to ask some questions. Experienced sonographers have completed hundreds and even thousands of 2d and 3d sonograms during their practice. They are licensed and competent to answer questions during the scanning session. However, it is essential to understand the purpose of 3d sonograms. The objective is to see the babies before they are born. Every pregnant woman is supposed to be under the medical care of the professionals.

In some unfortunate cases, when a fetus has some abnormalities, sonographers, generally, would advise a woman to go to her doctor for a re-check. The fact that a technician detected some abnormalities and made a notice of it should only benefit a woman.

What Are 2D, 3D, 4D Ultrasound Waves?

what are 2d, 3d, 4d ultrasound waves

Many factors influence the quality of ultrasound images. However, before discussing the quality of ultrasound images, it is essential to know the ultrasound physics of how those images are produced.

Sound waves basic.

waves visual presentation

According to ultrasonography, sound pulses penetrate through material tissues or media. Reflections from the objects in the media return to the transducer and appear as images on computer screens, recording devices, or printers.  The source of sound waves is the ultrasound machine and a transducer.

Parameters are characteristics of a sound wave.

There are seven parameters, such as period, frequency, amplitude, power, intensity, wavelength, and speed.

Pulsed ultrasound with a fixed period value

The period is the time for a wave to vibrate one cycle. The value is ranged from 0.1 to .05 microseconds or 0.0000001 to 0.0000005 seconds.
Frequency is the number of cycles of ultrasound waves during one second. It measures in Hz. In imaging ultrasound, frequency is in a range from 2MHz to 10MHz or 2-10 million per second. The name ultrasound is related to humans’ ability to hear sound waves. The audible frequency of the sound waves that people can hear lies between 20Hz and 20,000Hz. The frequency over 20,000Hz is called ultrasonic and gave a name to ultrasound waves. 

Ultrasound Frequency

Amplitude defines how big a sound wave is. Its value decreases as the wave goes through the medium.Power is another parameter that is the rate of the energy transferred. A technician can adjust both of these parameters.Intensity is the concentration of the energy in a sound beam. It determines how the power of a wave is distributed in space.

Ultrasound scan

Amplitude, power, and intensity are directly related to each other and define the strength of the wave. When intensity increases, amplitude and power also increase. The wavelength, as the name suggests, defines the length of the sound wave. It measures from 0.15 to 0.8 mm.
Speed is the distance that sound wave travels via a medium in 1 sec. Speed measures in from 500m/s to 1,500m/s for soft tissue in a body for a typical clinical ultrasound. During an ultrasound session, settings, or parameters of the ultrasound system could be adjusted to achieve the best result when rendering images. 

Why the medium is important for rendering clear images.

Sound cannot travel in a vacuum; it has to travel via a medium that could be of a different matter. For example, during an ultrasound session, the beam from a transducer has to penetrate tissues of the woman’s body. When a woman is obese, then the sound waves have to penetrate more body tissues. That would cause more interference, and the rendered images would have less quality under the same settings.

Ultrasound Session


Knowing how parameters of sound waves correlate to each other is a key to the optimal settings during an ultrasound session. Period and frequency are reciprocal to each other. In other words, the smaller a period is, the higher a frequency and vice versa. Amplitude, power, and intensity are grouped together because they determine a magnitude of the sound wave. The technician could adjust those parameters.Speed, on the other hand, is determined by the medium through which a sound wave is passing through. A wavelength is to be determined by the source and the medium. 

Medium is an essential factor that relates to the speed of the waves.

Its two characteristics are stiffness and density. Stiffness is defined by the object’s ability to resist the compression. An example could be a material that is resilient to squeezing. The stiffer the tissue, the more speed the sound waves have during the session. Density would have the opposite effect on speed. The higher density of the matter would cause a sound wave to travel at a slower speed.  

Ultrasound Probe

That knowledge about the physics of sound waves tied with the practical experience would help a sonographer to obtain the best images of the baby during the session.

Have or Not to Have 3D 4D Ultrasound?

Brand Name is Ultrasound Baby Images

When 3d 4d ultrasound imaging centers first opened for business about 15-20 years ago, there were little questions for moms and dads-to-be about having those keepsakes. The difference between the traditional black and white 2d ultrasound images and color three-dimensional 3d images benefited a new technology. The pictures of the unborn babies looked so real that parents wanted to have a photo op right away. As time progressed, more and more parents became involved in the process of getting 3d keepsakes. People also wanted to know if 3d ultrasound is safe. Few critics, mostly from medical doctors, argued that new technology could do some harm to the fetus during the development state of women’s pregnancies.

Why some obstetricians discourage parents from having recreational ultrasound?

2d, 3d, and 4d ultrasounds use sound waves technology. Compare to x-rays, sound waves are completely harmless to human bodies. Some medical researches revealed harmful heating effects on the rats’ brain tissues when used extensively. However, because the matters of brains affected were so tiny that the data was not reliable and insufficient to apply to humans. As a result, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine’s issued the statement: “No confirmed biological effects on patients or instrument operators caused by exposure at intensities typical of present diagnostic ultrasound equipment have ever been reported.”

What is a government position on the safety of 3d 4d sonograms?

Some publications state that FDA discourages using ultrasound for recreational purposes. However, it is not exactly right. FDA site stated an opinion of one of the engineers. If quoted: “Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important,” says Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer.” The key phrases are: “lack of evidence of any harm” and “ a prudent use” by trained professionals. The part of “lack of evidence of any harm” is self-explanatory. The “prudent use” is more speculative and needs more explanation. FDA expressed concerns that some “enterprises in the U.S commercializing ultrasonic imaging by making fetal keepsake videos,” and the videos were too long. That is not the case with regular 3d 4d ultrasound imaging centers. Most of those facilities provide ultrasound sessions that range from several minutes, such as gender determination packages, to up to 20-30 minutes of their most deluxe and expensive packages. 

Why non-diagnostic imaging centers use only professional sonographers?

GE Ultrasound System Voluson 730

“Prudent use” concern is even less practical and applicable in real life. There are none of the imaging centers where non-professionals personnel are allowed to use those ultrasound machines. First, there is a possibility to physically harm patients by non-certified technicians that, by itself, would provide a substantial financial liability for the owners. The other aspect is the high cost of the ultrasound equipment. Ultrasound systems from GE, Samsung, Phillips, and other companies could run up to several hundreds of dollars. The owners would be the first line of defense to protect their investments. As a result, all ultrasound technicians or sonographers are appropriately licensed before they can provide service. 

How to become a licensed ultrasound technician.

Ultrasound Technician performing a session

The usual way to become an ultrasound technician is to get enrolled in accredited Sonography programs, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP ) has the accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program. The advantage of this program is that students can sit for the ARDMS exam right after graduation.  Ultrasound technicians have extensive and rigorous training while they are in college. The time of getting a license is about two years. Highly experienced and trained instructors provide students with theoretical and practical aspects of the profession. The critical part of the program curriculum is the practical skills that students obtained working with volunteers. As a result, the graduates are fully prepared after passing the ARDMS exam to work as sonographers. Below are some examples of the most affordable colleges in Southern California for the accredited Sonography programs.

Cypress College; Merced College; Santa Barbara City College; Orange Coast College.

Let’s talk about the cost of ultrasound sessions and the quality of images and videos in the next blog.      

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