For obstetricians, ultrasound exams have become a routine procedure to check for fetal abnormalities. Although physicians are accustomed to viewing live 2D images, for the last several years they have been able to create static 3D images using data gathered during a 2D ultrasound exam.

But unlike its magnetic resonance and x-ray cousins, where 3D imaging has been a boon to physicians, ultrasound prefers to live in real time, whether guiding procedures or searching for abnormalities. Static 3D images have had limited usefulness, particularly for obstetricians who say they can usually see what they need in two dimensions.

Now 3D ultrasound is going live. Real-time 3D, or 4D, machines are able to create a 3D image during the procedure. Manufacturers say patients and physicians will benefit from the faster and more convenient 4D capability, but obstetricians say that so far two dimensions can still do almost everything they truly need. Of course, the exceptions and rare cases are where 4D is making a difference in diagnosis — plus saving valuable physician time.

Real time 3D
“Medically, we have not had much use for 3D,” says Lars Jensen, M.D., a perinatologist at South Florida Perinatal Medicine (Miami). “The 3D at the moment is very time consuming, and it doesn’t give us that much medical information that we need. With 3D, the picture is generated by a computer. It’s not a true picture of what you see, and if you have a baby’s hand in front of the face or there is any movement, the computer will generate a false image. It can be very difficult to get a good 3D image unless the baby is lying absolutely still. The 2D is just as good at this point.”

Please refer to the September 2002 issue for the complete story. For information on article reprints, contact Martin St. Denis