Fetal echocardiography

What is Fetal Echocardiography?

Fetal echocardiography is a type of imaging test which uses ultrasound to get an image of the developing baby’s heart. An echocardiogram of the fetus is a painless and noninvasive test, which is usually done between 18-22 weeks of pregnancy. Fetal echocardiography is used to detect any heart problems that the baby may have during the development process.

Preparation for fetal echocardiography

In order to prepare for a fetal echocardiogram, it is important to follow the instructions of the doctor. The doctor may ask you to empty your bladder before the examination. Avoid eating and drinking for two to three hours prior to the procedure as this will help create better images. There may be other instructions that the doctor may ask you to follow depending on individual cases.

Procedure for fetal echocardiography

Fetal echocardiography is done at the hospital or the doctor’s office during an ultrasound test. You will be asked to lie down on a bed and the doctor will use a wand to place it on the lower part of the abdomen. The cool, gel-covered wand will send sound waves to your abdomen and through the pressure changes, the doctor will be able to get images of the fetal heart. It is while this is happening that the doctor will be able to see details of how well the four chambers of the fetal heart and its valves are working.

Types of Fetal Echocardiography

The ultrasound images of the fetal heart can be obtained in two ways- through two-dimensional (2D) imaging or three-dimensional (3D) imaging. The 2D echocardiography gives still pictures with the help of the ultrasound. 3D echocardiography on the other hand captures moving images which can be further enhanced with the help of computer technology. Both the imaging methods give sufficient images for diagnosing the fetal heart problems.

Why a Fetal Echocardiography?

Fetal echocardiography helps detect any sort of heart problems in the baby before they are born. It can diagnose problems like irregular heart rhythm patterns, leakage in heart valves, holes between chambers and any other malformation of the heart. In addition, it is important to perform this test if the mother has a history of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, infectious diseases or any other medical condition.

When is Fetal Echocardiography done?

Fetal echocardiography is usually done between the 18-22 week of pregnancy. If the mother has any risk factors, it may be done in the earlier stages of pregnancy. It is also recommended to have more regular ultrasounds during the later stages of pregnancy to monitor the health of the baby’s heart.

Risks Associated with Fetal Echocardiography

Fetal echocardiography is generally a safe procedure and does not in any way harm the mother or the baby. However, it can rarely cause any side effects like dizziness, headache or nausea. In some cases, there might be some minor abdominal pain because of the pressure from the wand. In such cases, the doctor or the radiologist should be informed immediately.