3D and 4D Ultrasound for Examining Unborn Babies

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This is an article from our “Doctor’s Corner” series, brought to you by Samitivej Hospital. Make sure to read the entire series!

Expectant mothers may be anxious about the presence of birth defects and health condition of their unborn babies. Nowadays, ultrasound plays an important role as a worldwide recognised means to achieve medical health care for mothers-to-be and their babies. A technique used to visualise a fetus in its mother’s womb, ultrasound provides an obstetrician with valuable details, including determining the stage of pregnancy, the level of development of the fetus, and the presence of birth defects and disabilities. Besides, it helps the obstetrician evaluate and take care of twins as well as follow up the treatment of certain fetal abnormalities.


Benefiting from advanced technologies, 3D and 4D ultrasound scans are applied in conjunction with 2D ultrasound to examine the condition of the fetus.

3D Ultrasound and 4D Ultrasound

How do they differ from 2D ultrasound?
Ultrasound is the use of high-frequency non-radioactive sound waves to model the interior of the human body. Providing a high level of safety, ultrasound is generally used to create images of an internal body structure in two dimensions (height and width). A thin cross-sectional image obtained by 2D ultrasound scanning represents the signal of sound waves sent out from a probe. A well developed ultrasound machine can produce high-resolution images that can be displayed consecutively in accordance with the motion of the probe (hence, a moving picture). In contrast, a 3D ultrasound machine has a probe that controls multiple 2-dimensional images in different planes in order to create images with a depth dimension, which will be processed by a computer system to render life-like 3-dimensional images. Please note these are all still images.

Representing today’s state-of-the-art technology, 4D ultrasound is developed by adding the element of motion to still 3D ultrasound images, consequently enabling visualisation of the fetus and its movement in the womb.

The Advantages of 3D and 4D Ultrasound

  • By producing more realistic images showing fetal physical problems and their locations, the technologies enable more accurate diagnoses of birth defects and abnormalities, especially outward structural abnormalities such as cleft lip, cleft palate, tumour, abnormal skull shape, spinal deformities, and limb disabilities.
  • The diagnosis of the baby’s internal organs is performed with more effectiveness as fetal abnormalities can be precisely located. In addition, a tumour size inside the fetus’ body can be identified by calculating volume.
  • Forming a bond between a mother and child, an ultrasound experience is enjoyable and entertaining as the expectant mother has a chance to view her baby and its movements during the examination.

Do 3D and 4D ultrasound scans have any limitations?
3D/4D ultrasound technology has been developed for no less than 15 years, bringing about much more realistic moving images. However, the following conditions are limitations to adequate visualisation of fetal anatomy:

  • A baby lying face down (causing the difficulty in visualizing its face)
  • A low quantity of amniotic fluid
  • Part of the fetus’ arms, legs or umbilical cord overlapping a specific target area
  • Producing 3D and 4D ultrasound images takes several seconds. The obtained moving images are also displayed at a slower pace than those from 2D ultrasound.
Looking for a doctor for your OB/GYN health questions? We recommend:
Thewin DejthevapornThewin Dejthevaporn, M.D.
OB/GYN, Samitivej Hospital
Questions about your pregnancy, child birth or life with an infant? Ask the Doctor!

Is it necessary for a pregnant woman to have 3D and 4D ultrasound?
Generally, 2D ultrasound is a better and faster way for evaluating the unborn baby’s condition and diagnosing its abnormalities due to fewer limitations. However, in case of an abnormality detected by 2D ultrasound, 3D and 4D scan capabilities can help a doctor locate the problem more accurately and help parents-to-be know more about the nature of the abnormality.

2D ultrasound has been used for no less than 50 years while 3D/4D ultrasound is a much more recent technology. Both methods are safe due to their usage of sound waves, not radiation. Nowadays, 3D/4D scan is performed in conjunction with 2D ultrasound, which consequently increases the effectiveness of the examination and diagnosis of the fetus. In the near future, it is hoped that technological development will overcome all the limitations of 3D and 4D ultrasound so that obstetricians can provide better health care to their patients. This innovative technology will also allow all expectant mothers to enjoy a better bonding experience with their unborn children.

Samitivej, We Care!

For further information, please contact:

Women’s Health Center
Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
1st Floor, Building 2
Tel: 66 (0) 2711-8555-6
Call Center: 66 (0) 2711-8181
E-mail: info@samitivej.co.th
Facebook: www.facebook.com/samitivej

Photo Credit: heydrienne via Compfight cc

Samitivej Hospital

Samitivej Hospitals are world class international health care facilities located in Bangkok, Thailand.

Fully equipped with the state-of-the-art technologies, our innovative Women's Health Center at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital provides comprehensive gynecological and obstetrical service for women of all ages.

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