Ultrasound scanning is an important clinical tool in providing images of internal fetal anatomy. It is also called sonography because it uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of slices through the body. A transducer or probe which emits ultrasound waves is placed on the skin after coating it with a thin layer of conductive gel, to make sure the waves pass smoothly through the skin. The emitted ultrasound waves are reflected by different structures encountered by the waves. The strength of the reflected waves, and the time they take to return, form the basis for interpreting the information into a visible image. This is performed by computer software.
The advantages of ultrasound imaging over other imaging techniques include:
2D Ultrasound sends and receives ultrasound waves in just one plane. The reflected waves then provide a flat, black-and-white image of the fetus through that plane. Moving the transducer enables numerous planes of viewing, and when the right plane is achieved, as judged by the image on the monitor, a still film can be developed from the recording.
Further development of ultrasound technology led to the acquisition of volume data, i.e., slightly differing 2D images caused by reflected waves which are at slightly different angles to each other. These are then integrated by high-speed computing software. This provides a 3-dimensional image.
3D ultrasound may help to identify structural congenital anomalies of the fetus during the scheduled 18-20 week scan.
3D imaging allows fetal structures and internal anatomy to be visualized as static 3D images. However, 4D ultrasound allows us to add live streaming video of the images, showing the motion of the fetal heart wall or valves, or blood flow in various vessels. It is thus 3D ultrasound in live motion.