Fetal Cardiology Program Evaluation And Diagnosis

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At your first appointment, your cardiologist will use advanced diagnostic tests to determine the health of your baby's heart. A congenital heart defect (CHD) is a heart problem that occurs while the heart is still developing and is present at birth. Defects can range from holes between heart chambers to more severe defects, such as a blocked heart valve or heart chambers that are underdeveloped.

Heart defects can sometimes be detected using a specialized cardiac ultrasound called echocardiography.

Other tests we may perform include:

  • Amniocentesis:This test is performed by obstetricians and is used to obtain amniotic fluid which can be used for genetic and other diagnostic tests.
  • Fetal ultrasound: This is a routine, painless test that provides general information about the growth of your baby, and the structure and function of the baby's organs.
  • Fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test produces detailed images of your baby's organs and structures within the body. MRI is mainly used to obtain detailed images of the fetal chest, abdomen and brain.
  • Fetal echocardiogram: This is a highly specialized, detailed ultrasound examination of your baby's heart. It's usually performed if a heart defect is suspected or needs to be ruled out.

How early in my pregnancy can a heart defect be detected? 

Heart defects are typically detected when a fetus is 16 to 22 weeks old, since this is the usual age at which most pregnant women undergo a screening obstetric ultrasound. Some serious heart defects can be detected as early as 14 weeks.

How are congenital heart defects diagnosed?

Fetal ultrasounds are performed in most pregnant women to monitor fetal growth and to detect abnormalities. Serious congenital heart defects can be found during routine fetal ultrasounds. If your baby has potential risk factors, like a family history of heart disease, our cardiologists can carefully examine your baby's heart.

When are diagnostic tests necessary?

Most women will have a second trimester ultrasound by an obstetrician or radiologist that evaluates the heart in addition to the rest of the fetus. This is sufficient in most cases. It is not necessary for all pregnancies to undergo fetal echocardiography unless the ultrasound detects a heart abnormality.

Situations in which a fetal echocardiogram may be necessary include:

  • if a routine prenatal ultrasound has discovered possible heart abnormalities
  • if a sibling was born with a congenital heart defect
  • if there is a family history of congenital heart disease (such as parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents)
  • if a chromosomal or genetic abnormality is discovered in the fetus
  • if a mother has taken certain medications that may cause congenital heart defects, such as anti-seizure medications, Lithium or prescription acne medications
  • if the mother has abused alcohol or drugs during pregnancy
  • if a mother has diabetes or a connective tissue disease such as lupus
  • if the mother has had rubella during pregnanc
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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
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