When necessary, pediatric cardiologists from the American Family Children's Hospital Pediatric Cardiology Clinic conduct a fetal echocardiography test for women at an increased risk of giving birth to a baby with congenital heart disease.
Fetal echocardiography is a test that uses ultrasound to study the structure of a baby's heart before birth. It is a very detailed evaluation of a baby's heart.
Who should be tested
Women at an increased risk of giving birth to baby with congenital heart disease. Risk factors include:
- A family history of congenital heart disease
- An abnormal fetal heart rhythm
- Fetal heart abnormalities detected during a routine pregnancy ultrasound scan
- Abnormality of another major organ system
- Insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes mellitus
- Exposure to certain drugs in early pregnancy, such as anti-epileptic drugs
- Abnormal amniocentisis
When can the test be performed
Beginning at 14 weeks gestation, an echocardiography can be performed by scanning through the vagina. At 18 weeks gestation, imaging is done through the abdomen.
What does the test detect
A fetal echocardiogram can detect:
- Abnormalities of cardiac structure
- Arrhythmias, or cardiac rhythm disturbances
- Problems with the cardiac function
What are the limitations
A fetal echocardiography cannot detect all heart abnormalities, such as minor defects like small holes in the heart. Some cardiace defects aren't apparent until after birth.
What do the results of the test mean
Depending upon the findings, your obstetrician or physician will work together with other specialists to determine the best way to manage your pregnancy. These specialists may include a pediatric cardiologist, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, perinatologist and geneticist.