Skip to main content
hpa logo
Topics A-Z:
Search the site:
Home News Centre National Press Releases 2010 Press Releases ›  Scientists issue comprehensive report into health effects of ultrasound
Printer friendly page (opens in new window)

Scientists issue comprehensive report into health effects of ultrasound

2 February 2010

The independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR), which reports to the Health Protection Agency, has reviewed the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of ultrasound (frequencies above 20 kilohertz) and infrasound (below 20 Hz).


The report finds that the available evidence does not suggest that diagnostic ultrasound affects mortality of babies during pregnancy or soon after birth. The evidence also does not suggest any effect on childhood cancer risk. There have, however, been some unconfirmed reports suggesting possible effects on the developing nervous system - for instance, on handedness of the child.

AGNIR concluded that there is no established evidence that diagnostic levels of ultrasound are hazardous. However, further research is needed to determine whether there are any long-term adverse health effects, especially following exposure of the unborn child.

Professor Anthony Swerdlow, AGNIR chairman, said: "Ultrasound has been widely used in medical practice for 50 years, and there is no established evidence of specific hazards from diagnostic exposures. However, in the light of the widespread use of ultrasound in medical practice, its increasing commercial use for 'souvenir' foetal imaging, and the unconfirmed indications of possible neurological effects on the foetus, there is a need for further research on whether there are any long term adverse effects of diagnostic ultrasound."

The AGNIR report also looks at the available evidence for the health effects of infrasound, which is produced by aircraft, trains and other machines, as well as thunderstorms, wind and waves. It concluded that there was no consistent evidence that infrasound at levels normally found in the environment had physiological or behavioural effects, but there is little evidence about whether there are any longer-term effects.

HPA Response to the AGNIR Report

In response to the AGNIR report, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) says that parents-to-be should not hesitate to continue taking advantage of ultrasound scans for diagnostic purposes. However they should consider the uncertainties when deciding whether to have ultrasound scans that do not have a defined diagnostic benefit and provide only keepsake images or "real time" scans. 

Justin McCracken, Chief Executive Officer of the HPA, said: "This is another thorough and detailed report from the independent advisory group. Overall, there is a track record of safety with diagnostic use of ultrasound, so people should continue using ultrasound for medical purposes. However, there are some uncertainties that need to be clarified through additional research."

 

Notes to editors

  • Ultrasound and infrasound are mechanical waves at the extremes of the acoustic wavelength spectrum.
  • Ultrasound has been used worldwide for 50 years in diagnostic scanning and ultrasound therapy, and more recently for destruction of unwanted tissues.
  • Industrial applications of ultrasound include emulsification, welding, cleaning and sonochemistry.
  • AGNIR is an independent advisory group that reports to the sub-committee of the board of the HPA that deals with radiation, chemical and environmental hazards.

Last reviewed: 1 February 2010