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Are Ultrasounds Causing Autism in Unborn Babies?

Posted by on Jul. 10, 2013 at 6:44 PM
  • 38 Replies
Are Ultrasounds Causing Autism in Unborn Babies?

APR 29, 2013

Scientists are uncovering disturbing evidence that those sneak peeks at baby could damage a developing brain.

Toward the end of my first pregnancy, a doctor ordered an “emergency” ultrasound because she believed I was measuring small. She turned to go to her next client before I could talk to her about it, muttering that she suspected “intrauterine growth retardation.”

My husband and I sat in the waiting room, flooded with anxiety. The scan showed the baby was fine. It wasn’t until years later when I started researching and writing about pregnancy that I learned that ultrasound scans have not been shown to be any more effective in predicting intrauterine growth restriction (doctors these days try to avoid using the word retardation) than palpation of the pregnant woman’s abdomen by an experienced clinician.

The same summer my daughter was born, Marsden Wagner, an obstetrician, scientist, and former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization, wrote: “There is no justification for clinicians using routine ultrasound during pregnancy for the management of IUGR.”

Most women look forward to multiple ultrasounds because they are lulled into the assumption that this technology will catch potentially fatal abnormalities—such as a heart defect—early, so they can be fixed. When doctors tell pregnant women they will only get one or two scans, some are terribly disappointed, feeling that they won’t be able to bond as effectively with the baby or worrying that the doctor won’t know that the baby is growing normally. But one study of 15,151 pregnant women published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that an ultrasound scan does not improve fetal outcome. The study, which was conducted by a team of six researchers over almost four years, compared pregnant women who received two scans to pregnant women who received scans only when some other medical indication suggested an ultrasound was necessary. The results showed no difference in fetal outcomes.

“This practice-based trial demonstrates that among low-risk pregnant women ultrasound screening does not improve perinatal outcome,” the authors conclude. Even when the ultrasound technology uncovered fetal abnormalities, the fetal survival or death rate was the same in both groups.

What the authors did find, however, was that routine ultrasounds led to more expensive prenatal care, adding more than $1 billion to the cost of caring for pregnant women in America each year.

Another study, of 2,834 pregnant women, published in the Lancet, showed that the babies of the randomly chosen group of 1,415 women who received five ultrasounds (as opposed to the group of 1,419 women who had only one scan at eighteen weeks) were much more likely to experience intrauterine growth restriction, a scary combination of words that means the fetus is not developing normally. Ironically, intrauterine growth restriction is one of the conditions that having multiple ultrasounds is supposed to detect.

Though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that obstetricians discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having an ultrasound scan with pregnant patients, ACOG does not explicitly recommend the screening. ACOG explains that ultrasound may reduce fetal mortality rates because women who discover they are carrying fetuses that are incompatible with life will often choose abortion, but ACOG also specifies that ultrasound has not been proven to be effective for reducing infant mortality in any other way.
Their policy statement continues: “Screening detects multiple gestations, congenital anomalies, and intrauterine growth restriction, but direct health benefits from having this knowledge currently are unproven. The decision ultimately rests with the physician and patient jointly.”

The authors of the definitive, exhaustive, 1,385-page textbook for obstetricians, Williams Obstetrics, take a similarly conservative stance about ultrasound and do not explicitly recommend it for low-risk pregnancies: “Sonography should be performed only with a valid medical indication,” the authors write, “and with the lowest possible exposure setting to gain necessary information.”

Yet doctors and other birth providers take great exception if low-risk pregnant women refuse to be scanned. In 2004 when Lia Joy Rundle, a mom of three from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, was just a few weeks pregnant with her second child, she changed insurance providers. The new obstetrician reviewed her paperwork. “We might be able to do a quick ultrasound today, if the machine’s available,” she said. “Then you can take a look at your baby.”

Though they were planning to have a 20-week ultrasound, Lia and her husband saw no benefit to doing an early ultrasound and felt there might be some risk. But when they declined the scan, the obstetrician insisted there was no way to get an accurate due date without it. “Look at him, he’s fine,” she scoffed, pointing at their 1-year-old son. “How many ultrasounds did you have with him?”

But as I uncovered when I was researching this book, there is mounting evidence that overexposure to sound waves—or perhaps exposure to sound waves at a critical time during fetal development—is to blame for the astronomic rise in neurological disorders among America’s children.

In 2006, Pasko Rakic, M.D., a neuroscientist at Yale University School of Medicine, found that prenatal exposure to ultrasound waves changed the way the neurons in mice distributed themselves in the brain. Rakic and his team do not fully understand what effect the brain cell migratory alteration might have on brain development and intelligence, but they noticed, rather alarmingly, that a smaller percentage of cells migrated to the upper cortical layers of the mouse brain and a larger percentage to the lower layers and white matter.

At first reluctant to publish these results because they were preliminary and might discourage pregnant women from accepting medically necessary ultrasounds (the mice studies are part of a years-long double-blind experiment that is testing the effects of ultrasound on primate brains), Rakic decided the findings were too significant to ignore and concluded that all nonmedical use of ultrasound on pregnant women should be avoided. “We should be using the same care with ultrasound as with X-rays,” Rakic cautioned.

Manuel Casanova, a neurologist who holds an endowed chair at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, is one medical doctor who is listening. Casanova contends that Rakic’s mice research helps confirm a disturbing hypothesis that he and his colleagues have been testing for the last three years: that ultrasound exposure is the main environmental factor contributing to the exponential rise in autism.

When Casanova began researching autism 15 years ago he discovered that neuroscientists had not been able to isolate the differences between an autistic brain and a normal brain, unlike with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s, where the damage in the brain has been localized. Casanova realized that in order to understand both the causes and the potential cures for autism, scientists needed first to figure out where in the brain of autistic children damage was occurring.

Since no damage to individual neurons had ever been isolated, Casanova theorized that we might not be examining the brain in the right way. He began looking at the brain as a system instead of isolated parts.

It is these columns of neurons working together, which scientists now call “minicolumns,” that are responsible for higher cognitive functions like facial recognition, joint attention (if I turn my face and look somewhere, a child will turn and look too. Not because I told the child to look, but because the normal human brain is wired to do so), and much more. Joint attention is one of the many qualities that appear to be abnormal in the brains of autistic children. Casanova recognized the imperative of studying the circuitry within the brains of patients with autism and other psychiatric conditions. He and his colleagues found something surprising: brains of autistic patients have a 10 to 12 percent higher number of minicolumns as compared to nonautistic brains.

They also found another anomaly. During the normal formation of the human brain, cells divide in the hollows (ventricles) of the brain and then migrate to the surface (cortex), acquiring a vertical organization into columns. At the same time, other cells migrate tangentially and meet up with the columns. Casanova calls these migrations “a very fine ballet,” and explains that the cells that migrate tangentially have an inhibitory role, acting like a container to keep the cells in the minicolumn from spilling into other parts of the brain. Compared with other animals, even primates, the neurons in the human brain have to travel a much longer distance, and during this long migration there is, unfortunately, ample opportunity for things to go wrong.

Casanova explains: “You know that a shower curtain keeps water inside of the bathtub. If you have a defect in the shower curtain, water will spill out of the tub. If the radial migration is not coupled with the tangential migration of inhibitory cells, then the minicolumns will have a faulty shower curtain of inhibition and information will no longer be kept within the core of the minicolumn, it will be able to suffuse to adjacent minicolumns and have an overall amplification affect. Actually the cortex of autistic individuals is hyperexcitable and they suffer from multifocal seizures. One third of autistic individuals have suffered at least two seizures by the time they reach puberty.”

Translation: As the “minicolumn” brain cells move outward, if the complementary cells that inhibit them don’t keep pace, the information in the minicolumns will suffuse out to surrounding cells, causing a chain reaction that can result in seizures.

Ultrasound waves, Casanova explains, are a form of energy known to deform cell membranes. In fact, in the early 1990s the FDA approved the use of ultrasound to treat bone fractures because ultrasound increases cell division. Some cells in the human body are more sensitive than others.
Among the most sensitive cells? Those stem cells in the brain that divide and migrate.

Casanova’s hypothesis: Prolonged or inappropriate ultrasound exposure may actually trigger these cells to divide, migrate, and form too many minicolumns. They divide when they’re not supposed to and there are no inhibitory cells to contain them.

There are more neurologically damaged children in the United States today than ever before. As of 2007, 5.4 million children (the entire population of Finland) have been diagnosed with attention disorders, and today one in every eighty-eight children in America has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Japan, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States are among the industrialized nations that are seeing a huge, troubling, and seemingly inexplicable rise in the numbers of autistic children. These countries are geographically and culturally different. Their vaccine schedules are different. The labor and delivery experience is also different: In Scandinavian countries and Japan many more pregnant women tend to choose unmedicated vaginal births.

But all these countries do have one thing in common: the vast majority of pregnant women are getting regular prenatal care and being exposed to ultrasound in the form of anatomy scans and fetal-heart monitoring. In countries with nationalized health care, where virtually every pregnant woman is exposed to multiple ultrasounds, autism rates are even higher than in the United States.

The ultrasounds done on pregnant women today use sound waves with eight times the intensity used before 1991. This time period roughly coincides with the alarming increase in the incidence of autism within our population. Even more disturbing, the majority of technicians using ultrasound machines (as many as 96 percent) do not understand the safety margins they must adhere to in order to make sure the fetus is not exposed to harm.

As ultrasound equipment gets smaller, less expensive, and more portable, it has also become available—without any regulation—to anyone who knows how to surf the Internet. Want to see or hear your baby? You can buy your own ultrasound machine on Amazon or eBay.
“Most people believe it’s just about taking pretty pictures,” Manuel Casanova says, his voice thick with regret.


http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/04/29/are-ultrasounds-causing-autism-in-unborn-babies.html
by on Jul. 10, 2013 at 6:44 PM
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Replies (1-10):
TimetoMomUp
by Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 8:06 PM

Wow, that is pretty scary but you know...it makes sense.  I will have to look more into this information.

Carpy
by Platinum Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 9:15 PM
1 mom liked this

Interesting.  The rise in ultrasounds coincides with the rise in autism.

stringtheory
by Bronze Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 9:29 PM
1 mom liked this
Hmmm. Interesting. This brings to mind a friend of mine who is a little farther along in her pregnancy than I am. She is participating in a study being funded by Bill Gates' foundation and is getting an ultrasound every five weeks for the duration of the pregnancy. When I heard that, I was a little envious. Now, I wonder if this is something worth bringing to her attention, or if the conductors of this study are aware of any risks? My insurance covered one ultrasound with my first; with this one, I've already had two "routine" and one emergency u/s done...
Sisteract
by Socialist Hippie on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:01 PM

 Very interesting. I never had any us/s until I was overdue and for fluid evaluation. My kids are 26 and 22.

kcangel63
by Amanda on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:23 PM
I only had 1 with my first. I had a bunch with babies 2 & 3. I had none with my last 5.

No. I take that back. Baby 5 I had 1 at 28 weeks due to an ER trip for a kidney infection. Wanted to make sure he was ok.


Quoting Sisteract:

 Very interesting. I never had any us/s until I was overdue and for fluid evaluation. My kids are 26 and 22.

heidimoose134
by Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:27 PM

I suppose that there is a possibility this could affect some babies in a way. 

It's standard practice at my OBGYN office to do an ultrasound at every check up. I literally had one at each visit with both my boys. Both are perfectly normal so idk.


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SallyMJ
by Ruby Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:29 PM

No - A study shows a link between antibodies in the mom with autism in their children.

Just saw an article today.

http://www.science-autism.org/motherantibodies.htm

kcangel63
by Amanda on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:30 PM
2 moms liked this
I wouldn't do anything for Bill Gates. >:(

Not. A. Fan.


Quoting stringtheory:

Hmmm. Interesting. This brings to mind a friend of mine who is a little farther along in her pregnancy than I am. She is participating in a study being funded by Bill Gates' foundation and is getting an ultrasound every five weeks for the duration of the pregnancy. When I heard that, I was a little envious. Now, I wonder if this is something worth bringing to her attention, or if the conductors of this study are aware of any risks? My insurance covered one ultrasound with my first; with this one, I've already had two "routine" and one emergency u/s done...
kcangel63
by Amanda on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM
This is an interesting article.

http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/ultrasoundrodgers.asp

A small excerpt:

"One challenge that ultrasound operators face is keeping the transducer positioned over the part of the fetus the operator is trying to visualize. When fetuses move away from the stream of high-frequency sound waves, they may be feeling vibrations, heat or both. As the FDA warned in 2004, "ultrasound is a form of energy, and even at low levels, laboratory studies have shown it can produce physical effect in tissue, such as jarring vibrations and a rise in temperature."(9) This is consistent with research conducted in 2001 in which an ultrasound transducer aimed directly at a miniature hydrophone placed in a woman's uterus recorded sound "as loud as a subway train coming into the station."(10)

A rise in temperature of fetal tissue—especially since the expectant mother cannot even feel it—might not seem alarming, but temperature increases can cause significant damage to a developing fetus's central nervous system, according to research.(11) Across mammalian species, elevated maternal or fetal body temperatures have been shown to result in birth defects in offspring.(12) An extensive review of literature on maternal hyperthermia in a range of mammals found that "central nervous system (CNS) defects appear to be the most common consequence of hyperthermia in all species, and cell death or delay in proliferation of neuroblasts [embryonic cells that develop into nerve cells] is believed to be one major explanation for these effects."(13)

Why should neurodevelopmental defects in rats or other mammals be of concern to expecting women? Because, as Cornell University researchers proved in 2001, brain development proceeds in the same manner "across many mammalian species, including human infants."(14) The team found "95 neural developmental milestones" that helped them pinpoint the sequence of brain growth events in different species.(15) Therefore, if repeated experiments show that elevated heat caused by ultrasound damages fetal brains in rats and other mammals, one can logically assume that it can harm human brains, too.

In fact, the FDA and professional medical associations know that prenatal ultrasound can be dangerous to humans, which is why they have consistently warned against the non-medical or "keepsake" ultrasound portrait studios that have cropped up in malls throughout the country.(16)

The risks to the baby are potentially higher in commercial enterprises due to the higher acoustic output required for high-definition images, a potentially long session—as technicians hunt for suitable images—and the employment of ultrasound operators who may have no medical background or appropriate training. These variables, along with factors such as cavitation (a bubbling effect caused by ultrasound that can damage cells) and on-screen safety indicators that may be inaccurate by a factor ranging from 2–6 (17), make the impact of ultrasound uncertain even in expert hands. Quite simply, if ultrasound can injure babies, it can cause the same damage whether done for routine, diagnostic or "entertainment" purposes.

Elevated Maternal Temperatures Cause Birth Defects

Understanding what happens when the fetus's temperature increases, whether caused by an elevation in maternal core temperature or by the more local effect of ultrasound, is the key to appreciating prenatal ultrasound risks. An individual's body temperature varies throughout the day due to various factors such as circadian rhythms, hormone fluctuations and physical exertion. While people may have up to 1.5° F in each direction of what is considered a "normal" core temperature, the overall average among people is 98.6° F. An increase of only 1.4° F to 100° F can cause headaches, body aches and fatigue, enough to get the individual excused from work. A temperature of 107° F can cause brain damage or death.

A core temperature of about 98.6° F is important because that is the point at which many important enzyme reactions occur. Temperature affects the actual shape of the proteins that create enzymes, and improperly shaped proteins are unable to do their jobs correctly. As factors such as the amount of heat or duration of exposure increase, enzyme reactions become less efficient until they are permanently inactivated, unable to function correctly even if the temperature returns to normal.(18)

Because temperature is critical to proper enzyme reactions, the body has built-in methods to regulate its core temperature. For instance, when it is too low, shivering warms it up; when it is too high, sweating wicks off the heat. For obvious reasons, fetuses cannot cool off by sweating. However, they have another defense against temperature increases: Each cell contains something called heat shock (HS) proteins that temporarily stop the formation of enzymes when temperatures reach dangerously high levels.(19)

Complicating the issue is the fact that ultrasound heats bone at a different rate than muscle, soft tissue or amniotic fluid.(20) Further, as bones calcify, they absorb and retain more heat. During the third trimester, the baby's skull can heat up 50 times faster than its surrounding tissue (21), subjecting parts of the brain that are close to the skull to secondary heat that can continue after the ultrasound exam has concluded.

Elevated temperatures that might only temporarily affect the mother can have devastating effects on a developing embryo. A 1998 article in the medical journal Cell Stress & Chaperones reported that "the HS response is inducible in early embryonic life but it fails to protect embryos against damage at certain stages of development." The authors noted, "With activation of the HS response, normal protein synthesis is suspended…but survival is achieved at the expense of normal development."(22)"


Quoting SallyMJ:

No - A study shows a link between antibodies in the mom with autism in their children.

Just saw an article today.

http://www.science-autism.org/motherantibodies.htm

stringtheory
by Bronze Member on Jul. 10, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Lol, I was just envious of the frequent ultrasounds.

Quoting kcangel63:

I wouldn't do anything for Bill Gates. >:(



Not. A. Fan.




Quoting stringtheory:

Hmmm. Interesting. This brings to mind a friend of mine who is a little farther along in her pregnancy than I am. She is participating in a study being funded by Bill Gates' foundation and is getting an ultrasound every five weeks for the duration of the pregnancy. When I heard that, I was a little envious. Now, I wonder if this is something worth bringing to her attention, or if the conductors of this study are aware of any risks? My insurance covered one ultrasound with my first; with this one, I've already had two "routine" and one emergency u/s done...
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