Ultrasound is used routinely by physicians to examine the development of the fetus in pregnant women. It's also used to identify any abnormalities and to determine gestational age. To capture the image, the sonographer or physician will place a transducer on the belly. The transducer is a probe and it sends out high frequency sound waves, which are reflected off the targeted part, and the signals are sent to a computer that deciphers the information to create an image in a TV monitor. Since it's in real-time, the parents and the sonographer or health care provider will be able to view the baby's movement, sex, and other details. However, the images in 2D are rather vague so it takes a trained sonographer to spot the body parts and features. The parents get to keep the photos of the sonograms but in most cases, they are grainy.
Sometimes, a 2D ultrasound may reveal some problems but it's not detailed enough to confirm the abnormality. This is the time that the health care provider will order a 4-D ultrasound scan. Using a special sonogram equipment, 4D ultrasound produces high-quality images from various angles. A 4D ultrasound can show extremely detailed images of the fetus, including the movements, facial features, and the images are in color. Since 4D ultrasound machines are quite rare, these scans are often performed at a private ultrasound business. It does not require a doctor's order and it only takes about 20 minutes to complete.
The procedure for 4D ultrasound is similar to a 2D ultrasound. All the same, the sonographer will apply a conductive gel on the woman's abdomen to facilitate the easy gliding of the transducer, and the conductive gel also acts a medium to transmit the high frequency waves to the target area. As the transducer captures the reflected sound waves, the image of the fetus will be formed, and it can be viewed on the TV monitor, in real-time. After the procedure, the parents will be given a keepsake video and photo of the baby.
Since 4D ultrasound is a relatively new technology, some scientists are concerned about the level of energy used in these machines. The level of energy used is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, and generally, 2D ultrasound machines are considered safe but there's a debate about 4D ultrasound machines. They argue that the level of energy used in 4D machines should be higher than 2D machines because the 4D images are of a higher quality.