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Bad Vibrations? Ultrasound disturbs mouse brains

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10:18am, August 9, 2006

Prolonged and frequent use of fetal ultrasound might lead to abnormal brain development, a study in mice suggests. The finding sounds a cautionary note for pregnant women getting the commonplace procedure.

In that technique, an ultrasound probe sends high-frequency sound waves into the abdomen of a pregnant woman. The waves bounce back to detectors, creating images of the fetus. Doctors use the pictures to check for birth defects and to assess a fetus' size and movements. Many women also undergo ultrasounds to create collections of early baby pictures.

Ultrasound has generally been regarded as safe. However, a few studies have suggested that it might cause neurological changes, such as delayed speech or an increase in left-handedness. Researchers hadn't studied how the number or duration of ultrasound procedures affects neurons growing in the fetal brain, says neuroscientist Pasko Rakic of Yale University.

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