Fetal echocardiography (echo) uses sound waves to check the heart of your developing baby.
Fetal echo can help find heart
defects before birth. If a heart problem can be found early, the more likely treatment
will work. This is because:
- Healthcare providers may be able to treat the problem before birth, in some cases.
- Healthcare providers can get ready for problems that may happen during labor and delivery.
- An early delivery can be scheduled.
- Once the baby is born, treatment may be done. This might be medicine or surgery.
Healthcare providers recommend fetal echo in these cases:
- Another child was born with a heart
- Family history of genetic heart
- Genetic problem found in the
- You are taking certain medicines that
may cause congenital heart defects. These include certain medicines for seizures,
depression, and acne. They also include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
(NSAIDs) and blood pressure medicines (ACE-inhibitors).
- You have abused alcohol or drugs
during your pregnancy
- You have certain health problems such
as diabetes, lupus, or phenylketonuria
- You have had certain infections during
your pregnancy. These include German measles (rubella) or cytomegalovirus.
- You had abnormal test results from
- You conceived by assisted reproductive
- Your baby was noted to have too fast,
slow, or irregular heart beats on exam
- Abnormalities seen on fetal
- You became pregnant at an advanced age
If you have risk factors such as a family history of heart problems, fetal echoes are often done in the second trimester of pregnancy. This is at about 18 to 24 weeks.
Fetal echo does not have any risks for either the fetus or mother. The lowest possible ultrasound settings are used.
You don't need to do anything to get ready for fetal echo. Plan for 30 minutes to 2 hours for the test.
During the Test
A specially trained pediatric
cardiologist, maternal-fetal medicine specialist, obstetrician, or radiologist does
fetal echo. In general, the steps include:
- You will lie on an exam table. You
won’t likely need to change your clothes.
- The provider will put gel on your
- The provider will use an electronic
device called a transducer that sends out sound waves.
- He or she will move the transducer
around to get the best images of the fetal heart. You may feel pressure as the
transducer moves over your belly.
- Once the exam is complete, the gel is
Sometimes an endo-vaginal echocardiogram is done early in pregnancy to monitor the
developing fetus' heartbeat. The healthcare provider puts a small echocardiogram probe
into the vagina instead of putting it on the belly.
After the Test
Your healthcare provider will look at the results. He or she may order more tests or procedures. They may include:
Treatment. This may be medicine or procedures to treat fetal heart problems.
Fetal wellness assessments. To check overall fetal health, you may be asked to count fetal movements.
Nonstress test. This checks fetal heart rate and movement.
Biophysical profile (BPP). This is an ultrasound exam to check overall fetal health. It checks heart rate, breathing, movement, muscle tone, and the amount of amniotic fluid.
Ultrasounds or echocardiography. These are tests done to confirm the diagnosis. They also follow fetal growth, watch for fetal heart changes, and check for other problems.
Amniocentesis. This test can find chromosomal and genetic disorders and certain birth defects. The healthcare provider puts a needle through the abdominal and uterine wall and into the amniotic sac. He or she takes a sample of amniotic fluid.
Genetic counseling. A counselor helps you learn your risks of having a baby with genetic defects.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
- The name of the test or procedure
- The reason you are having the test or procedure
- What results to expect and what they mean
- The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
- What the possible side effects or complications are
- When and where you are to have the test or procedure
- Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
- What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
- Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
- When and how you will get the
- Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
- How much you will have to pay for the
test or procedure