What Can Be Learned from a Fetal Echocardiogram?
A thorough fetal echocardiogram will provide physicians with a complete anatomical description of the fetal heart. It will also allow assessment of cardiac function and identify normal or abnormal cardiac rhythms.
Fetal echocardiograms are optimally performed between 18 and 24 weeks' gestation (approximately mid-pregnancy), but can be performed anytime after this period.
Prior to 18 weeks gestation, the small size of the fetus makes it progressively more difficult to image the heart earlier in pregnancy. However, in certain high-risk pregnancies, it is possible to perform fetal echocardiography as early as 12-14 weeks’ gestation.
How Information from the Test Will be Used
Information about fetal heart problems will be sent to your obstetrician and the pediatrician or neonatologists who would likely see the baby immediately following birth.
Some heart problems may require immediate attention after delivery of your baby. The information from the fetal echocardiogram can influence the choice of where the baby should be born (high-risk obstetric center vs. community facility) and may direct the initial stabilization of the baby right after birth.
Some cardiac problems, such as arrhythmias, may be able to be treated before the baby is born by administering anti-arrhythmia medications to the mother.
Knowing about a potential heart problem prior to delivery also gives a family a chance to learn more about the problem, which can help them prepare psychologically for dealing with the extra challenges they may face following birth, such as surgery or other interventions the child may require.