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International recommendations and guidelines for the safe use of diagnostic ultrasound in medicine

      Abstract

      Modern sophisticated ultrasonographic equipment is capable of delivering substantial levels of acoustic energy into the body when used at maximum outputs. The risk of producing bioeffects has been studied by international expert groups during symposia supported by the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology (WFUMB). These have resulted in the publication of internationally accepted conclusions and recommendations. National ultrasound safety committees have published guidelines as well. These recommendations and safety guidelines offer valuable information to help users apply diagnostic ultrasound in a safe and effective manner. Acoustic output from ultrasound medical devices is directly regulated only in the USA and this is done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there is also a modern trend towards self-regulation which has implications for the worldwide use of diagnostic ultrasound. It has resulted in a move away from the relatively simple scheme of FDA-enforced, application-specific limits on acoustic output to a scheme whereby risk of adverse effects of ultrasound exposure is assessed from information provided by the equipment in the form of a real-time display of safety indices. Under this option, the FDA allows a relaxation of some intensity limits, specifically approving the use of medical ultrasound devices that can expose the fetus or embryo to nearly eight times the intensity that was previously allowed. The shift of responsibility for risk assessment from a regulatory authority to the user creates an urgent need for awareness of risk and the development of knowledgeable and responsible attitudes to safety issues. To encourage this approach, it is encumbent on authorities, ultrasound societies and expert groups to provide relevant information on biological effects that might result from ultrasonographic procedures. It is obvious from the continued stream of enquiries received by ultrasound societies that effective dissemination of such knowledge requires sustained strenuous effort on the part of ultrasound safety committees. There is a strong need for continuing education to ensure that appropriate risk/benefit assessments are made by users based on an appropriate knowledge of the probability of biological effects occurring with each type of ultrasound procedure. The primary purpose of this paper is to draw attention to current safety guidelines and show the similarities and areas of general agreement with those issued by the parent ultrasound organisation, the WFUMB. It is equally important to identify gaps in our knowledge, where applicable.

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