New findings support the belief that ultrasound has the capacity to damage unborn babies (BMJ, 17 July 1993).
Researchers in Norway looked at 2161 babies born at 60 GP clinics between 1979 and 1981 and found that those who had been subjected to ultrasound scans in the womb were 30 per cent more likely to be left handed than those who were not scanned.
Although they do not rule out the difference being down to chance, they suggest that it may indicate "a sensitive index of subtle changes in the development of the brain".
Further studies into the effect of ultrasound scanning should be carried out, they say, as did the British Medical Journal (See Viewpoint, p 6).
Meanwhile, doctors at a London hospital are hoping to add yet another test to the barrage of already dubious diagnostic procedures foisted on pregnant women. The test, coeloncentesis, which is being developed by doctors at King's College Hospital, involves a needle, guided by ultrasound, being inserted into a mother to be's vagina to remove a sample of fluid from the coelomic cavity, which surrounds the fetus in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The King's doctors conducted a trial of the new test on 100 women who were undergoing abortions. They managed to obtain a sample in just 70 per cent of cases.
The purported benefits of coeloncentesis over conventional tests are that it can be done earlier in pregnancy, and that it doesn't involve puncturing any of the membranes or blood vessels surrounding the fetus.
Its drawback which is likely to make it even more dangerous than the existing tests is that it involves subjecting pregnant women and their unborn children to the well documented dangers of general anaesthetic.
It also exposes the fetus to the potential dangers of ultrasound.