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Fetal Echocardiology

What is Fetal Echocardiography?

Fetal echocardiography is a specialized ultrasound test performed during pregnancy to evaluate the position, size, structure, function and rhythm of the unborn baby’s heart. An obstetrician is able to obtain a limited view of the baby’s heart during a routine pregnancy ultrasound. A fetal echocardiogram provides a detailed evaluation by a specialist in fetal echocardiography of the baby’s heart.

What is the Benefit of Fetal Echocardiography?

One of the benefits of fetal echocardiography is prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart disease (CHD). This allows the baby to have faster access to medical and surgical intervention after birth. In some cases, prenatal diagnosis has been shown to improve overall outcomes in babies with complex heart disease.

Who Needs a Fetal Echocardiogram?

Certain women are at a higher risk for delivering a baby with congenital heart disease. These patients should be considered for a fetal echocardiogram referral.


Indications include the following:
  • Your unborn child is at risk for a heart abnormality or other disorder
  • You have a family history of heart disease
  • You’ve already given birth to a child with a heart condition
  • You’ve used drugs or alcohol during your pregnancy
  • You’ve taken certain medications or been exposed to medications that can cause heart defects, such as epilepsy drugs or prescription acne drugs
  • You have other medical conditions, like rubella, type 1 diabetes, lupus, or phenylketonuria
Are There Limitations to Fetal Echocardiography?

There are some abnormalities that even a detailed fetal echocardiogram cannot detect prenatally. These include pulmonary venous anomalies, coarctation of the aorta, small holes and mild valve abnormalities. Additionally, some cardiac lesions are not evident until after the baby is born. Occasionally, repeat evaluation is necessary.

What Does a Patient Need to Know to Prepare for a Fetal Echocardiogram?

There is no fasting required for this test. It is advisable to have regular meal before this test as sometimes the test could last for a longer time. Mothers who are less than 24 weeks pregnant are asked to arrive with a moderately full bladder.

What happens during the exam?

This test is similar to a routine pregnancy ultrasound. You will be first asked to lie down and expose your belly. The cardiologist will then apply a special lubricating jelly to your skin. The jelly prevents friction so that the doctor can move an ultrasound transducer, which is a device that sends and receives sound waves, over your skin. The jelly also helps transmit the sound waves.

The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves through your body. The waves echo as they hit a dense object, such as your unborn child’s heart. Those echoes are then reflected back into a computer. The sound waves are too high-pitched for the human ear to hear.

The transducer is moved all around your stomach to get images of different parts of your baby’s heart. After the procedure, the jelly is cleaned off your abdomen. You’re then free to return to your normal activities.

Are there any risks associated with this exam?

There are no known risks associated with the echocardiogram because it uses
ultrasound technology and no radiation.

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