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J Ultrasound Med. 2012 Apr;31(4):623-34.

Overview of therapeutic ultrasound applications and safety considerations.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, University of Michigan, 3240A Medical Science Building I, 1301 Catherine St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-5667, USA.


Applications of ultrasound in medicine for therapeutic purposes have been accepted and beneficial uses of ultrasonic biological effects for many years. Low-power ultrasound of about 1 MHz has been widely applied since the 1950s for physical therapy in conditions such as tendinitis and bursitis. In the 1980s, high-pressure-amplitude shock waves 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 from thermal-based therapies and severe hemorrhage from mechanical-based therapies (eg, lithotripsy). In all of these therapeutic applications of ultrasound bioeffects, standardization, ultrasound dosimetry, benefits assurance, and side-effect risk minimization must be carefully considered to ensure an optimal benefit to risk ratio for the patient. Therapeutic ultrasound typically has well-defined benefits and risks and therefore presents a manageable safety problem to the clinician. However, safety information can be scattered, confusing, or subject to commercial conflicts of interest. Of paramount importance for managing this problem is the communication of practical safety information by authoritative groups, such as the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, to the medical ultrasound community. In this overview, the Bioeffects Committee of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine outlines the wide range of therapeutic ultrasound methods, which are in clinical use or under study, and provides general guidance for ensuring therapeutic ultrasound safety.

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