Fetal echocardiography is a test similar to an ultrasound. This exam allows your doctor to better see the structure and function of your unborn child’s heart. It’s typically done in the second trimester, between weeks 18 to 24.
The exam uses sound waves that “echo” off the structures of the fetus’s heart. A machine analyzes these sound waves and creates a picture, or echocardiogram, of their heart’s interior. This image provides information on how your baby’s heart formed and whether it’s working properly. It also enables your doctor to see the blood flow through the fetus’s heart. This in-depth look allows your doctor to find any abnormalities in the baby’s blood flow or heartbeat.
Not all pregnant women need a fetal echocardiogram. For most women, a basic ultrasound will show the development of all four chambers of their baby’s heart. Your OB-GYN may recommend that you have this procedure done if previous tests weren’t conclusive or if they detected an abnormal heartbeat in the fetus.
On the day of the stress echocardiogram, do not eat or drink anything except water for four hours before the test. Do not drink or eat caffeinated products (cola, chocolate, coffee, tea) for 24 hours before the test. Caffeine will interfere with the results of your test. Do not take any over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine for 24 hours before the test. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse if you have questions about medications that may contain caffeine.
How to Identify?
- your unborn child is at risk for a heart abnormality or other disorder
- you have a family history of heart disease
- you’ve already given birth to a child with a heart condition
- you’ve used drugs or alcohol during your pregnancy
- you’ve taken certain medications or been exposed to medications that can cause heart defects, such as epilepsy drugs or prescription acne drugs
- you have other medical conditions, like rubella, type 1 diabetes, lupus, or phenylketonuria
An abdominal echocardiography is similar to an ultrasound. An ultrasound technician first asks you to lie down and expose your belly. The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves through your body. The waves echo as they hit a dense object, such as your unborn child’s heart. Those echoes are then reflected back into a computer. The sound waves are too high-pitched for the human ear to hear. The technician moves the transducer all around your stomach to get images of different parts of your baby’s heart.
For a transvaginal echocardiography, you’re asked to undress from the waist down and lie on an exam table. A technician will insert a small probe into your vagina. The probe uses sound waves to create an image of your baby’s heart. A transvaginal echocardiography is typically used in earlier stages of pregnancy. It may provide a clearer image of the fetal heart.
What to Do?
Generally, normal results mean your doctor found no cardiac abnormality. If your doctor found an issue, such as a heart defect, rhythm abnormality, or other problem, you may need more tests, such as a fetal MRI scan or other high-level ultrasounds. Your doctor will also refer you to resources or specialists who can treat your unborn child’s condition. You may also need to have an echocardiograph done more than once. Or you may need additional testing if your doctor thinks something else could be wrong.