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Over the past century, the great progress made in healthcare for existing and ne

w technology relies on electrotechnology. Following the discovery of X-ray imagi

ng in the late 19th century, great advances have been made to ultrasonics diagno
sis and treatment equipment. The evolution in medical imaging used to see and ex
amine the interior of patients
bodies has made it clearer and safer. This in turn r
esults in faster more accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment of illness and
traumatic injuries.
Echocardiography used during a minimally invasive guided heart valve replacement
(Photo: Philips)
Echocardiography used during a minimally invasive guided heart valve replacement
(Photo: Philips)
Research into the use of ultrasonics for medical diagnosis began after WWII. Ult
rasonic scanning, or ultrasonography, uses high frequency sound waves to produce
images on a screen, of internal organs, vessels and tissues. It is arguably the
best of all ultrasonic medical applications, particularly for prenatal ultrasou
nd scans or echographs.
Quicker, easier (and less costly) to use than CT (computerised tomography) scans
and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasonic scans are therefore frequently
used to monitor and diagnose the condition of organs, such as the liver, kidney
s or gallbladder. Echocardiograms, or ultrasonic scans of the heart, are also us
ed to diagnose and follow up heart conditions.
Silence is golden
Ultrasound technology is increasingly being used in surgery. USIs (ultrasonic su
rgical instruments) convert an ultrasonic signal into a mechanical vibration usi
ng a transducer; a waveguide then amplifies and propagates the vibration. Highly
useful in diverse medical procedures, USIs can cut bone and other tissue while
simultaneously reducing bleeding by coagulating tissue. This generally reduces t
he average length of surgery and damage to tissue, resulting in fewer complicati
ons overall.
Non-invasive therapeutic applications
Scientific advances mean that ultrasound energy can be used as non- or minimally
-invasive HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound), or HITU (high-intensity ther
apeutic ultrasound). These methods can be used to remove body tissue in the trea
tment of cancers and other conditions, by applying ultrasound energy to heat and
destroy diseased tissues.
This technology has greatly benefited other treatments, in particular ESWL (extr
acorporeal shock wave lithotripsy). Ultrasound (or other) imaging systems locate
and target kidney, gallbladder or liver stones, which are smashed into pieces b
y ultrasound pulses and evacuated naturally through urination. Introduced in the
early 1980s, it quickly replaced surgery to become the most widespread treatmen
t for stones.
Some other treatments now using HIFU/HITU include:
Bone healing and physiotherapy for inflammation caused by rheumatism, tendinitis
or joint injuries.
Drug distribution to treat tumours, especially in the brain, where it may be dif
ficult to achieve.
Cosmetic applications, such as non-invasive liposuction and for a number of ther
apies to improve skin tone, scars and sun-based damage.
Bright smiles

One public health application of ultrasonics is in dental care as descalers to r

emove plaque before it hardens into tartar. Ultrasonic descalers have a tip that
vibrates at high frequency to break down the bacterial matter to which plaque a
nd calculus stick. This technology enables a smoother and less painful experienc
Hygiene safety
All medical and dental equipment must be absolutely clean before use, particular
ly in case of contact with a patient's tissue (surgical instruments) or mucous m
embranes (endoscope), otherwise the introduction of pathogenic microbes can lead
to infection. It is imperative to clean, disinfect and sterilize all multiple-u
se instruments and devices after use on a patient or surgery. Ultrasonic cleanin
g uses a special wash solution to reach and effectively remove organic waste fro
m difficult-to-clean areas, such as equipment or devices with joints and crevice
Why International Standards for ultrasonics?
Medical diagnostic ultrasonic equipment is expanding rapidly, and surgical and t
herapeutic ultrasound applications are expected to continue growing significantl
y. This medical field ranges from diagnosis to surgical and non-invasive treatme
nts and also comprises ultrasonic cleaners.
As a recognized requirement for meeting regulations worldwide, the need to chara
cterise the ultrasonic fields and establish a means for determining exposure lev
els to them is fulfilled by International Standards. Such Standards ensure that
these ultrasonic equipment and systems meet all the requirements for safe use fo
r patients and medical staff.
Created in 1985, IEC TC (Technical Committee) 87: Ultrasonics, prepares Internat
ional Standards related to the characteristics, methods of measurement, safety a
nd specifications of fields, equipment and systems in the area of ultrasonics, c
overing medical equipment and industrial applications.
As of September 2014, TC 87 had published 45 International Standards, Technical
Reports and Specifications, and continues to develop more, mostly for medical ap