Background: Advantages of early pregnancy ultrasound screening are thought to be more accurate calculation of gestational age, earlier identification of multiple pregnancies, and diagnosis of non-viable pregnancies and certain fetal malformations.
Objectives: The objective of this review was to assess the use of routine (screening) ultrasound compared with the selective use of ultrasound in early pregnancy (ie before 24 weeks).
Search strategy: The Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group trials register and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (up to July 1998) were searched.
Selection criteria: Adequately controlled trials of routine ultrasound imaging in early pregnancy.
Data collection and analysis: One reviewer assessed trial quality and extracted data. Study authors were contacted for additional information.
Main results: Nine trials were included. The quality of the trials was generally good. Routine ultrasound examination was associated with earlier detection of multiple pregnancies (twins undiagnosed at 26 weeks, odds ratio 0.08, 95% confidence interval 0.04 to 0.16) and reduced rates of induction of labour for post-term pregnancy (odds ratio 0. 61, 95% confidence interval 0.52 to 0.72). There were no differences detected for substantive clinical outcomes such as perinatal mortality (odds ratio 0.86, 95% confidence interval 0.67 to 1.12). Where detection of fetal abnormality was a specific aim of the examination, the number of terminations of pregnancy for fetal anomaly increased.
Reviewer's conclusions: Routine ultrasound in early pregnancy appears to enable better gestational age assessment, earlier detection of multiple pregnancies and earlier detection of clinically unsuspected fetal malformation at a time when termination of pregnancy is possible. However the benefits for other substantive outcomes are less clear.