What is a Fetal Echocardiogram?
Fetal echocardiography is a special type of ultrasound (sonogram) that specifically looks at the heart anatomy of your developing fetus. This is a more detailed look at the structure of the heart than a standard fetal ultrasound you may have at your OB office.
Why might I be referred for a Fetal Echocardiogram?
The most common reason is a concern for an abnormality see on a routine fetal ultrasound by the OB. This may have been an abnormality of the heart or another organ system that may effect the heart. Abnormalities of the heart are the most common birth defects and range from very minor anomalies to complex issues.
You may also be referred for concerns of your fetus having an abnormal heart beat (rhythm) which may require treatment or just monitoring.
Since heart defects can be inherited if you have a personal history of a heart defect your OB may request an evaluation to ensure the baby does not have a similar abnormality.
By performing this test we can hope to better understand your baby's heart before they are born. This allows us to plan how to manage the baby including deciding where is the best place for them to be born.
How should I prepare and what should I expect?
This will be similar to your routine fetal ultrasound (sonogram) so you should plan to wear loose fitting clothes that you will be comfortable in. This test may take up to 1 hour.
We will explain our findings to you at the end of your study and discuss follow-up, planning for delivery, and any treatments that may be needed.
How accurate is a Fetal Echocardiogram?
While a Fetal Echocardiogram is one of the best tools to evaluate the fetal heart it does have limitations.
The quality of the pictures may be limited by the baby's size, position, and how much they move during the study. Sometimes if the baby is not in a good position or is moving too much we may have to bring you back for another visit to get better pictures.
There are some abnormalities that may be difficult to identify in a fetus simply because the way blood flows is very different before birth. Things like small holes / defects, abnormalities of the lung veins, and mild valve problems among others can't be well seen until the baby is born. Some of these issues may not be present at first but as the fetus continues to grow they may develop.
We work in partnership with you OB to track your baby as they develop and watch for changes. Your OB will be monitoring you closely and if they have any new concerns they will send you back for further images.