Expectant mothers in the 1980s were lucky to get one ultrasound per pregnancy. Sometimes, baby boomers were told with incomplete certainty whether the nursery should be pink or blue, but most of the time, the scan simply revealed the baby's development.
Today, ultrasound technology - or sonography - is being used by an increasing number of physicians and other health care providers to provide efficient, low-cost, dynamic diagnostic imaging while avoiding exposure to radiation.
A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians shows the use of ultrasound testing rather than X-rays or CT scans in the ICU reduces patient radiation exposure and lowers costs of care.
The imaging method uses high-frequency sound waves to view organs within the abdomen, fetuses in the womb, and spectral tracings in arteries and veins. The technology has already generated many new ultrasound procedures like 3D and 4D sonography in obstetrics and gynecology.
In addition, researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are developing an ultrasound device for regulating blood sugar in diabetics that may give patients the ability to painlessly release insulin and go days between injections - rather than using needles to give themselves multiple insulin injections each day.
Equipment is widely available and comparatively flexible. Small, easily carried scanners are available; examinations can be performed at the bedside.