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Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Care Providers

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Fetal and Perinatal Echocardiography

Congenital heart disease occurs while a fetus is developing. It's seen in 1% of babies born in the U.S. and is the most common birth defect.

The fetal heart is completely formed by eight weeks. After that, a fetal and perinatal echocardiogram can use sound waves to create pictures of an unborn baby's heart and detect any heart defects.

A specially trained ultrasound technician typically performs the test, and a pediatric cardiologist (heart doctor) interprets the images.

Heart defects range from mild to very severe. Some require surgery for newborns and some get better on their own.

Who is eligible for fetal and perinatal echocardiography?

Your obstetrician or midwife will talk with you about fetal or perinatal echocardiography if they think one is needed.

Some women are more at risk of having a baby with a heart defect. Things that make it more risky include:

  • The woman has had rubella.
  • The developing baby has a genetic disorder.
  • There is a family history of certain heart problems.
  • The woman has abused alcohol or drugs during pregnancy.
  • The baby's heart could not be seen well on an ultrasound.
  • The woman has taken medications that may cause heart defects.
  • The woman has a medical condition that may hurt the baby's heart.
  • The woman has diabetes, phenylketonuria, or a connective tissue disease such as lupus.
  • The heart does not look normal when it's examined on an ultrasound test during the pregnancy.

What conditions can be diagnosed by fetal and perinatal echocardiography?

Fetal and perinatal echocardiography can show heart disease or heart defects.

A congenital heart defect is a structural problem of the heart that develops during pregnancy. About 1/100 babies are born with a heart defect. Most people with these defects are treated when they are newborns.

How do I prepare for fetal and perinatal echocardiography?

It is always important to have as much information as possible when you get a fetal echocardiogram. You'll want to know why your obstetrician or perinatologist wanted you to have one. If the reason is that you have a heart defect, bring your medical records.

What should I expect during my fetal and perinatal echocardiogram?

An ultrasound technician will do the echocardiogram and a pediatric cardiologist (children's heart doctor) will review the pictures.

There are two ways to do this test:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: The ultrasound technician puts gel on the mother's belly, and uses a probe to take pictures.

  • Endovaginal ultrasound: The ultrasound technician puts a transducer (electronic device) into the vagina and rests it against the back of the vagina to take pictures of the baby's heart.

You will have the test in a dark room while lying down. It is like a regular ultrasound. You will feel some pressure from the wand, but no pain.

It can take 30 minutes to two hours to get the pictures needed to see all the parts of the heart.

Why choose Presbyterian for fetal and perinatal echocardiography?

Presbyterian’s Pediatric and Congenital Cardiology team has many different options to help you manage your or your child’s heart condition. The team performs various diagnostic tests and procedures to help form an accurate diagnosis and create individualized treatment plans. Depending on the type of heart condition your child has and its underlying cause, the team can recommend a wide variety of treatment options. Our pediatric cardiologists, pediatric interventional cardiologists, and pediatric cardiovascular surgeons work closely together for cases in which cardiac repair or surgery is the best treatment option.

Doctor holding patient's hand in hospital.

Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Care Providers

Our team of highly skilled doctors and clinicians offers a full range of heart-related services from diagnosis and treatment to monitoring.

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