Overview of Therapeutic Ultrasound Applications and Safety Considerations

Applications of ultrasound in medicine for therapeutic purposes have been an accepted and beneficial use of ultrasonic biological effects for many years. Low power ultrasound of about 1 MHz frequency has been widely applied since the 1950s for physical therapy in conditions such as tendinitis or bursitis. In the 1980s, high pressure-amplitude shockwaves came into use for mechanically resolving kidney stones, and “lithotripsy” rapidly replaced surgery as the most frequent treatment choice. The use of ultrasonic energy for therapy continues to expand, and approved applications now include uterine fibroid ablation, cataract removal (phacoemulsification), surgical tissue cutting and hemostasis, transdermal drug delivery, and bone fracture healing, among others. Undesirable bioeffects can occur including burns for thermal-based therapies and significant hemorrhage for mechanical-based therapies (e. g. lithotripsy). In all these therapeutic applications for bioeffects of ultrasound, standardization, ultrasound dosimetry, benefits assurance and side-effects risk minimization must be carefully considered in order to insure an optimal benefit to risk ratio for the patient. Therapeutic ultrasound typically has well-defined benefits and risks, and therefore presents a tractable safety problem to the clinician. However, safety information can be scattered, confusing or subject to commercial conflict of interest. Of paramount importance for managing this problem is the communication of practical safety information by authoritative groups, such as the AIUM, to the medical ultrasound community. In this overview, the Bioeffects Committee outlines the wide range of therapeutic ultrasound methods, which are in clinical use or under study, and provides general guidance for assuring therapeutic ultrasound safety.

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