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Definition Return to top
Fetal echocardiography is a test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to evaluate the baby’s heart for problems before birth.
How the Test is Performed Return to top
Fetal echocardiography is a test that is done while the baby is still in the womb. It is usually done during the second trimester of pregnancy, when the woman is about 18 – 24 weeks pregnant.
The procedure is similar to that of a pregnancy ultrasound. You will lie down for the procedure.
The test can be performed on your belly (abdominal ultrasound) or through your vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
In an abdominal ultrasound, the person performing the test places a clear, water-based gel on your belly and then moves a hand-held probe over the area. The probe sends out sound waves, which bounce off the baby’s heart and create a picture of the heart on a computer screen.
In a transvaginal ultrasound, a smaller probe is inserted into the vagina. A transvaginal ultrasound can be done earlier in the pregnancy and produces a clearer image than an abdominal ultrasound.
How to Prepare for the Test Return to top
No special preparation is needed for this test.
How the Test Will Feel Return to top
The conducting gel may feel slightly cold and wet. You will not feel the ultrasound waves.
Why the Test is Performed Return to top
This test is done to detect a heart problem before the baby is born. It can provide a more detailed image of the baby’s heart than a regular pregnancy ultrasound.
The test can show:
The test may be done if:
Normal Results Return to top
The echocardiogram finds no problems in the unborn baby’s heart.
What Abnormal Results Mean Return to top
Abnormal results may be due to:
The test may need to be repeated.
Risks Return to top
There are no known risks to the mother or unborn baby.
Considerations Return to top
Some heart defects cannot be seen before birth, even with fetal echocardiography. These include small holes in the heart or mild valve problems.
If the health care provider finds a heart problem, a detailed ultrasound may be needed to check the rest of the unborn baby’s body for other abnormalities. Some heart rhythm problems may be treated before the baby is born. Others are treated soon after birth.
References Return to top
Lee W, Comstock CH. Prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart disease: Where are we now? Ultrasound Clin. 2006;1:273-291.
Laboratory Evaluation. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 423.
Webb GD, Smallhorn JF, Therrien J, Redington AN. Congenital Heart Disease. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP. Brawnwald’s Heart Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 61.Update Date: 2/18/2009 Updated by: Daniel N. Sacks MD, FACOG, Obstetrics & Gynecology in Private Practice, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.