A  A  A   Print
Fetal EchocardiographyEcocardiografía Fetal

Fetal Echocardiography

What is fetal echocardiography?

Fetal echocardiography is an ultrasound test done during pregnancy to evaluate the heart of the unborn baby.

Echocardiography assesses the heart's structures and function. A small probe called a transducer (similar to a microphone) is placed on the mother's abdomen and sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed in certain locations and at certain angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the mother's and baby's skin and other body tissues to the baby's heart tissues, where the waves bounce (or "echo") off of the heart structures. The transducer picks up the reflected waves and sends them to a computer. The computer interprets the echoes into an image of the heart walls and valves.

Fetal echocardiography can help detect heart abnormalities before birth, allowing for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born. This improves the chance of survival after delivery for babies with severe heart defects.

When is a fetal echocardiogram necessary?

It's not necessary for all women to have a fetal echocardiogram during pregnancy. The prenatal ultrasound tests that are done routinely prior to birth can give information about whether the fetal heart has developed all four chambers. Most unborn babies do not require any further testing.

Situations in which a fetal echocardiogram may be necessary include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • If a sibling was born with a congenital (present at birth) heart defect

  • A family history of congenital heart disease, such as parents, aunts or uncles, or grandparents

  • A chromosomal or genetic abnormality discovered in the fetus

  • If a mother has taken certain medications that may cause congenital heart defects, such as antiseizure medications or prescription acne medications

  • If the mother has abused alcohol or drugs during pregnancy

  • If a mother has diabetes, lupus, phenylketonuria, or a connective tissue disease

  • If the mother has had rubella during pregnancy

  • A routine prenatal ultrasound has discovered possible heart abnormalities

  • A routine prenatal ultrasound has identified other congenital (present at birth) anomalies, such as kidney, brain or bone abnormalities.

Fetal echocardiograms are usually done in the second trimester of pregnancy, at about 18 to 24 weeks.

How is a fetal echocardiogram done?

A fetal echocardiogram is done by a pediatric cardiologist who is specially trained. The test is typically done by placing a probe over the mother's abdomen to visualize the fetal heart.

During the test the transducer probe will be moved around to obtain images of different locations and structures of the fetal heart. Techniques sometimes used to obtain detailed information about the fetal heart include the following:

  • 2-D (two-dimensional) echocardiography. This technique is used to "see" the actual structures and motion of the heart structures. A 2-D echo view appears cone-shaped on the monitor, and the real-time motion of the heart's structures can be observed. This enables the doctor to see the various heart structures at work and evaluate them.

  • Doppler echocardiography. This Doppler technique is used to measure the speed of blood flow through the heart's chambers and valves. Also, Doppler can detect abnormal blood flow within the heart, which can indicate such problems as an opening between chambers of the heart, or a problem with one or more of the heart's four valves. Color Doppler is used to determine the direction of blood flow in the baby's heart.

Fetal echocardiography can help detect fetal heart abnormalities before birth, allowing for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born. This improves the chance of survival after delivery for babies with serious heart defects. Other tests or procedures that may be needed include the following:

  • Additional ultrasounds or echocardiograms. Tests done to confirm the diagnosis, follow fetal growth, and monitor fetal well-being.

  • Amniocentesis. A test done to identify the presence of chromosomal and genetic disorders and certain birth defects. The test involves inserting a needle through the abdominal and uterine wall into the amniotic sac to retrieve a sample of amniotic fluid.

  • Genetic counseling. Providing an assessment of heritable risk factors and information to patients and their relatives concerning the consequences of a disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and ways in which it can be prevented, treated, and managed.

 
Today's Interactive Tools
Related Items

The third-party content provided in the Health Library of phoebeputney.com is for informational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. If you or your child has or suspect you may have a health problem, please consult your primary care physician. If you or your child may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or other emergency health care provider immediately in the United States or the appropriate health agency of your country. For more information regarding site usage, please visit: Privacy Information, Terms of Use or Disclaimer.

Follow us online:

© 2014 Phoebe Putney Health System  |  417 Third Avenue, Albany, Georgia 31701  |  Telephone 877.312.1167

Phoebe Putney Health System is a network of hospitals, family medicine clinics, rehab facilities, auxiliary services, and medical education training facilities. Founded in 1911,
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (the flagship hospital) is one of Georgia's largest comprehensive regional medical centers. From the beginning, Phoebe's mission and vision
has been to bring the finest medical talent and technology to the citizens of Southwest Georgia, and to serve all citizens of the community regardless of ability to pay.