Ultrasound – from heart to 3D portrait

The first ultrasound images were of a heart beating. Now the technique also allows doctors to see in great detail what is happening in the womb. With 3D ultrasound, it is possible to see a ‘portrait’ of the foetus, which can be used to study possible deformities. Ultrasound has a long history at Lund University.

In the 1950s, two Lund University researchers, medic Inge Edler and physicist Hellmuth Hertz, carried out groundbreaking work on the use of ultrasound in medical diagnostics. Their first echocardiogram (ultrasound image of the heart) was performed in 1953. Ever since then, the method has been of enormous help to cardiologists and other medical professionals, and nowadays advanced ultrasound technology is used as a routine method of diagnosis in a range of clinical specialities, including cardiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, and radiology, as well as to study the blood vessels, breasts, sinuses and eyes.

For a number of years, it has also been possible to produce 3D and moving ultrasound images. As yet, ordinary two-dimensional images of the foetus still show more details of medical interest than images in 3D; it is possible to see the aorta, profile of the face, ears, heart and other internal and external parts of the foetus’s body. Two-dimensional ultrasound is therefore the routine method used. However, three-dimensional images are now also used for medical diagnosis of the foetus.

“If ordinary ultrasound suggests there may be a birth defect, for example abnormalities of the fingers or a cleft lip and palate, a 3D scan is then carried out. We are also investigating the use of 3D ultrasound as a possible method of more accurately determining the weight of the foetus. The weight is important both for very small babies, who may need to be delivered earlier than normal, and for very large babies, when a caesarean may be necessary”, explains Karel Marsal, Professor Emeritus in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Lund University

Text: Ingela Björck and Olle Dahlbäck 2012

Ultrasound image/film of a foetus in 3D. Photo: Ann Thuring





Modern obstetrics covers both normal and abnormal pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care.

Obstetrics is the field in which ultrasound is most commonly used, since all pregnant women nowadays have an ultrasound scan. In this area, Lund University was also pioneering through the work of Dr Bertil Sundén, who studied foetal ultrasound scanning in the 1960s. Nowadays, ultrasound scans are used to determine the age of the foetus, its growth and any deformities or expected problems at birth. The method of measuring the growth of the foetus using Doppler ultrasound was developed in Lund by Professor Karel Marsal.


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