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Credit: Ann Dornfeld

UW research links ultrasound to severity of some autism

Ultrasound should not be done on pregnant women in their first trimester unless medically necessary.

A University of Washington researcher says a new autism study reinforces that federal recommendation.

Sara Webb, a UW associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, told KUOW’s Emily Fox that her team looked only at children with autism.

She said there was a problem for one group of kids who were exposed to ultrasound.

“Boys that had genetic errors who received an ultrasound during first trimester were more likely to have worse outcomes,” she said. “They were more likely to have more repetitive behaviors and lower IQ than those boys who didn’t have first trimester ultrasound.

“So this really shows there’s a subgroup of kids that can be very vulnerable to these outside stressors.”

So does ultrasound itself cause autism? Webb emphasized that her study did not explore that question and more research is needed.

“To really find out the mechanism – why this is occurring – we’re going to need to look to animal research,” she said.

She said she hopes her study will prompt pregnant women to talk to their doctors about whether having an ultrasound is really necessary in the first trimester.

She said she has two children herself and had ultrasounds during both pregnancies. But …

“I would have a lot more questions to ask my OB, and I would probably have changed my mind about first trimester ultrasound,” Webb said.

She said there are times when ultrasound is medically necessary in the first trimester.

But she said she hopes the research will help drive guidelines on what’s best for clinical care.

The study appears in the journal Autism Research. The authors were from the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Research Institute.

Produced for the web by Gil Aegerter.