What Is A Fetal Echocardiogram?

A Fetal Echocardiogram is a prenatal ultrasound test that studies the structure and function of the fetus’s heart to detect the presence of a Congenital Heart Defect. 

It uses the same ultrasound technology as other prenatal scanning examinations performed by Fetal Medicine Specialists.

               Best Fetal Echocardiogram Test in Chennai

Chennai Women’s Clinic in Chennai is the best and most trusted testing and scan center for all pregnancy and fetal-related diagnostic procedures. We provide a variety of high-quality diagnostic services. 

 Your Fetal Echocardiogram is handled under the guidance of an award-winning Obstetrician and Gynecologist in the city, Dr. Deepthi Jammi. 

When is the Fetal Echo Scan performed?

The Fetal echo is usually performed between 16 – 22 weeks of gestation. Still, this test can also be performed either earlier (13 weeks) or as late as the end of the third trimester in pregnancy but is technically difficult during the advanced stage of pregnancy.

What Is Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)?

A congenital heart defect is a problem in the heart’s structure that is present before birth. 

Signs and symptoms depend on the specific type of problem. The defect can vary from minor to life-threatening.

These defects can be straightforward, such as a hole in the heart connecting two chambers (atrial or ventricular septal defect) or an abnormal heart valve (pulmonary or aortic stenosis).

They can also be more complex defects in which a major portion of the heart does not form (such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome), or the anatomic connections are abnormal (such as transposition of the great arteries).

Some infants will be born with a heart defect that requires immediate stabilization of the baby shortly after birth, followed by surgery.

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How many babies are born with congenital heart disease?

Approximately one out of every 100 live-born infants (~1 percent) will be born with a congenital heart defect, which usually develops during the embryologic formation of the heart (first trimester).

What Causes Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)?

Genetic and environmental factors are suspected in the formation of congenital heart disease. Specific gene defects (22q11 deletion, trisomy 21) have been identified as having a solid association between congenital heart disease and more generalized syndromes. In addition, other factors such as maternal diabetes and specific medications (such as anticonvulsants) have been associated with increased rates of heart defects.

What are the medical practices employed?

The ultrasound study includes two-dimensional imaging, 3-dimensional imaging, color flow, and Doppler evaluation of blood flow. After the study is performed, the patient is counseled by the Fetal Medicine Specialisation for the diagnosis and prognosis.

How is the test performed?

The test is performed from above (abdominal) or through the vagina (transvaginal). As in the routine pregnancy tests, a sound wave is transmitted that is reflected by the baby’s heart and is captured to project an image of the heart on the screen. This helps the Fetal Medicine Specialist better see the structure and function of the unborn child’s heart.

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What is observed during the procedure?

The main observations that would be made during the course of the scan procedure would be the structure of the heart, blood flow and beating rhythm.

Who Should Have a Fetal Echocardiogram?

Pregnancies may be at risk for congenital heart disease for various fetal, maternal, or familial reasons.

Fetal risk factors include:

  • An abnormal appearing heart
  • Abnormal heart rate or arrhythmia on routine screening ultrasound
  • Aneuploidy (chromosomal abnormality)
  • Increased nuchal translucency thickness at first trimester evaluation
  • Non-cardiac fetal structural abnormalities
  • A two-vessel umbilical cord
  • Twins
  • Fluid accumulation in the fetus
  • If the unborn baby has been diagnosed with a genetic abnormality including disorders with abnormal number of chromosome; Down syndrome, for example
  • If a heart abnormality is suspected on routine ultrasound
  • If there are abnormalities outside of the heart of the fetus noted on routine prenatal ultrasound; examples include extra fluid around the lungs or the heart or an abnormality of another organ such as the kidneys or brain.
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate or rhythm. This can be an irregular heartbeat or heart rate that is too fast or too slow.

Maternal risk factors include:

  • Maternal diabetes, lupus or other systemic disease that involves the heart (such as DiGeorge Syndrome)
  • First-trimester use of known teratogens
  • IVF pregnancies
  • Maternal congenital heart disease
  • If the mother has taken medications that are known to cause congenital heart defects.
  • If the mother has specific health problems such as diabetes (the type that the mother had prior to pregnancy)
  • If the mother had specific infections during pregnancy such as rubella or CMV

Familial risk factors include:

  • If a first degree relative has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. First degree relative includes the mother or father of the baby as well as any siblings of the baby
  • If there is a known family history of disorders that are passed along from generation to generation such as Marfan’s syndrome or tuberous sclerosis

Is the test definitive?

While fetal medicine specialistswork to detect defects to the maximum extent possible, it must be realized by the patient and her family that imaging procedures cannot detail extremely minor portions of the heart. Heart defects often develop over time such as those that affect the heart muscles or valves.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the implications of an abnormal fetal echo test?

The diagnosis of a heart defect has significant implications for the overall health of the fetus; certain heart defects may significantly increase the risk of genetic problems such as Down’s Syndrome. The finding of benign tumors in the heart makes the diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis, a genetic syndrome that has significant implications for abnormal brain development, much more likely.

 2. When is the fetal echocardiogram performed?

Fetal echocardiograms can reliably be performed any time after 17–18 weeks gestation; however, if scanning is done before 18 weeks, the patient will likely be asked to return for more definitive pictures to confirm the findings on the early study.

 3. Should you be worried about fetal echocardiogram?

Fetal echo scans are completely safe. The procedure does not pose any health risks to your baby.

 4. What kind of treatments are available for the unborn child with a heart defect?

Some prenatal medical interventions are needed to help with fetal heart rate disturbances. However, this varies in each case. You will be guided with the detailed procedure when you meet us in person.

 5. How do you support the patient after a congenital heart disease diagnosis?

We understand this involves a huge lot of emotions. However, we like to mention that you are not alone. Dr. Deepthi is here to help. Using her specialized knowledge in this field, she will guide you and your family through a counseling session to explain what you can do to make things better.