Do Ultrasounds Cause Autism? Nope, Say Researchers

In recent years, the diagnoses of autism in adolescents has skyrocketed, leading to a spike in research on the underlying causes of autism spectrum disorder. People began to suspect all sorts of things of being associated with the disorder, including ultrasounds.

With that in mind, researchers conducted a study asking whether or not ultrasounds could possibly play a role in the surge of autism cases. The short answer is no. According to the latest research, ultrasounds play no role in the appearance of autism.

That said, one study did document a correlation between autism and ultrasound depth that warrants further exploration. (Ultrasound depth is just what it sounds like. It described how far into the body the sound waves travel.)

Here are a few more important details on both the study and its findings:

  • Why did the researchers study ultrasounds in the first place?

    To put it simply, ultrasounds were an area of study concerning autism because researchers don’t want to leave any stone unturned. Ultrasonography has exploded in recent years. During the same time period, doctors diagnosed more and more kids with autism spectrum disorders. With that correlation in mind, researchers naturally had questions regarding the procedure that deserved an answer. That’s why they conducted and published this study in JAMA Pediatrics.

  • What about ultrasounds did the researchers look at, exactly?

    In all, researchers looked at nine different metrics regarding ultrasound procedures. These included things like number of ultrasounds, ultrasound depth, thermal index, and doppler time. Scientists assessed the given effect over the entire pregnancy as well as all three trimesters separately. They ended up running 30 different tests, which is quite a large number for one study.

  • Did the researchers find any connection between autism diagnoses and ultrasounds?

    Just one, and it’s a tenuous one. According to the study, there is a statistical connection between autism and ultrasound depth. However, the researchers couldn’t produce the meaning behind this correlation. Along with the possibility of these results creating a false positive, ultrasound depth is often a biological factor largely dependent on the mother’s size and weight. It could be that maternal obesity is the link (although we’re not sure of that yet, either). Other than the aforementioned connection in data, there was no link shown between autism and ultrasounds in the group studied.

  • What Do These Results Mean?

    In the most simple and clear of terms, this study shows no causation between ultrasounds and autism. Factors that scientists believed could have been involved with autism development, such as duration and/or number of ultrasounds, showed no connection in this study. In fact, the senior author of the study herself states that “none of the parameters previously associated with harm were found to be different in these populations” and an accompanying paper further validates the fact that these results do not show a link between ultrasounds and autism.

Next Steps in the Study of Ultrasound Safety

This study looked at 420 children, which was not as thorough as some may have wished. Still, the results seem to disprove a connection between autism and ultrasounds. With this in mind, however, researchers are back to the drawing board. They’ll keep working on the problem to either explain the correlation found between autism and ultrasound depth or negate it all together. In the meantime, if your doctor orders an ultrasound, you can be confident of its safety.