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Ultrasound in pregnancy Q&As
Published by Bupa's health information team, February 2010.
Answers to questions about ultrasound in pregnancy
This section contains answers to common questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.
What happens if my ultrasound scan shows an ectopic pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy must be treated because it's a life-threatening condition and the embryo will not survive.
An ultrasound scan can show an ectopic pregnancy as early as five weeks. An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo attaches outside the womb, usually to the fallopian tube and sometimes to the ovary or cervix.
An embryo that attaches outside the womb can't develop normally and can damage the organ it's attached to, causing severe bleeding and putting the woman's life at risk. This is why a confirmed ectopic pregnancy needs to be ended, using either medicines or surgery.
Most ectopic pregnancies are treated using a medicine called methotrexate. This stops new cells from being produced and so stops the growth of the pregnancy. Methotrexate is usually given as an injection.
The embryo can be surgically removed using keyhole or open surgery. In keyhole surgery, special instruments are passed into the abdomen through small cuts. These instruments are used to examine and remove the ectopic pregnancy. For open surgery, the surgeon makes a single cut into the abdomen and removes the embryo. Treating ectopic pregnancy by surgery is usually a medical emergency.
How soon can an ultrasound scan determine whether my baby is a boy or girl?
An ultrasound scan can check the sex of your baby from around 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Ultrasound can check the sex of your baby from around four months of pregnancy. However, it is not completely accurate because it depends on the position of your baby and the skill of your sonographer. You may be able to find out at your routine anomaly scan, but some hospitals will not tell you the sex of your baby unless it is for medical reasons.
If you need to know the sex of your baby for medical reasons, you may be offered amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS). These tests can help determine the sex of your baby and check for a range of genetic disorders.
Amniocentesis involves taking a sample of amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby in the womb. Amniocentesis has a small risk of causing a miscarriage. This is why it is usually offered only to women when screening tests show they have a higher risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder, or women over 35 years old as the chance of having a Down's syndrome baby increases with the mother's age.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) involves removing tiny tissue samples from the placenta. CVS is usually done at 10 to 13 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure has a slightly higher risk of miscarriage compared to amniocentesis. It is also not as accurate as amniocentesis.
- The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
020 7772 6200
- Key facts: what is haemophilia? Haemophilia Society. www.haemophilia.org.uk, accessed 30 September 2009
Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2005. www.rcog.org.uk
What is the purpose of my 12-week ultrasound pregnancy scan?
You will usually be offered an ultrasound scan at about 10 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. It's often called a dating scan because it's done to check how many weeks pregnant you are and estimate your expected due date. During this scan, your baby can be screened for Down's syndrome.
Your midwife or doctor can tell how far into your pregnancy you are by measuring your baby's length from top of head to rump. This is called the crown-rump length (CRL). On average your baby is about 3-8cm long at 10 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Your baby's face is well formed and his or her eyelids are closed. Your baby can open and close his or her mouth and frown. The arms and legs are long and thin and the baby can make a fist and curl toes. Your baby's sex organs are developed but they are too small to see on the scan.
The amount of fluid in a fold behind your baby's neck can be measured to assess the risk of Down's syndrome. This is called the nuchal translucency test. The more fluid is present, the greater the chance the baby has Down's syndrome. People with Down's syndrome have an extra chromosome 21. They have characteristic physical and mental features such as learning difficulties, particular facial features and heart problems.
If the test indicates a higher risk, you will be offered tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which can tell you if your baby has Down's syndrome.
- Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2008. www.nice.org.uk
- Fetal development. National Library of Medicine. www.nlm.nih.gov, accessed 30 September 2009
- Your second trimester: Nuchal translucency screening. Emma's Diary, Royal College of General Practitioners. www.emmasdiary.co.uk, accessed 30 September 2009
This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Dr Naim Boutros, MRCOG, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Medway Maritime Hospital NHS Trust, and by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
Publication date: Feburary 2010