Fetal Echocardiography (FEC) is a non-invasive method to detect congenital heart defects (CHDs) in unborn babies. In addition to detecting CHDs, FEC is also useful in determining the risk of miscarriage due to a fault. Fetal echocardiography is a diagnostic test that evaluates the structure and function of an unborn baby’s heart. Here is a guide for fetal echocardiography for beginners.

Benefits of Fetal Echocardiography:

The following are some of the benefits of FEC:

  • Detection of CHDs:

Fetal echocardiography helps in detecting major congenital heart defects (CHD) before birth. CHDs are structural abnormalities of the heart caused due to abnormal formation of the heart. These may be associated with other systems or organs. Most of these problems can lead to various symptoms including respiratory distress, cyanosis, congestive cardiac failure and death. Early detection and intervention can improve outcomes significantly.

A fetus’ heart rate may vary before birth. If the fetus does not have a normal heart rhythm, then a doctor will perform ECG (electrocardiogram) to check the electrical activity of the heart. If the fetus’ heartbeat is abnormal, then doctors may use FEC to view the baby’s heart and lungs. The results of FEC help determine whether or not the baby should undergo further testing.

  • Determining Risk of Miscarriage:

Miscarriage occurs when a woman loses her pregnancy early. A small percentage of women who experience a miscarriage has been diagnosed with a heart defect. FEC helps detect heart defects in fetuses at high risk for miscarriage.

  • Screening for Congenital Heart Disease (CHD):

If a pregnant mother has a history of CHDs, she may want to know if her child will inherit the same problem. A study found that mothers with a family history of CHDs were 1.8 times more likely to have children with CHDs than those without a family history of CHD. FEC can screen for these conditions and this can be found in a fetal echocardiography report.

  • Maternal Conditions:

FEC detects abnormalities in the placenta and umbilical cord. It can also help identify maternal conditions that affect the fetus, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, thyroid problems, epilepsy, and cancer.

  • Preventing Premature Birth:

Premature births occur when a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation. These pregnancies pose a significant threat to both mother and baby. FEC provides information about the size and position of the baby and the condition of the uterus.

  • Facilitating Pregnancy:

During routine fetal echocardiography, an ultrasound technician places the transducer over the abdomen. He/she then moves the probe to scan the fetal heart and lungs. The fetal echocardiography images are displayed on a monitor. An obstetrician or radiologist examines the image and compares it with previous studies. If any abnormalities are noted, further testing may be ordered.

Related Article: Fetal Echocardiography: 5 Frequently Asked Questions

This test is performed at different gestational ages, depending upon the age of the mother. A normal fetal echocardiograph is usually done between 20-24 weeks of gestation. This test is not recommended after 24 weeks of pregnancy due to the increased risk of miscarriage.