Diagnostic ultrasound is a powerful, non-invasive medical tool for real-time imaging of the fetus, internal organs of the body such as the heart, liver and gallbladder, as well as major veins and arteries. Blood flow can also be imaged or measured. The basis of operation for diagnostic ultrasound is the transmission into the body of sound (or acoustic radiation) at frequencies 100 - 500 times higher than can be heard. Images are then created by reception, processing, and display of echoes reflected from structures, tissues and flowing blood. The technique is similar to how bats, whales, and dolphins use echolocation, or how submarines use SONAR.

Ultrasound is also used for physiotherapy treatment, particularly for joints. A new and growing use is ultrasound as a surgical tool for destroying abnormal tissue growths or tumours. Ultrasound is also used extensively in industrial, commercial, military and home applications such as ultrasonic drilling, welding, cleaning, alarms, and animal repellants.

There are concerns about the safety of ultrasound because it is a form of energy which, above certain thresholds, can cause destructive heating and/or interaction effects with microscopic bubbles in the body. A cautious approach should therefore be taken in its use.

For general information about the benefits and risks of using diagnostic fetal ultrasound

For guidelines and regulations related to ultrasound

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