Fetal echocardiography uses sound waves to evaluate a baby’s heart development before birth.
Similar to ultrasound imaging, fetal echocardiography uses sound waves to produce images of an unborn baby’s heart while it is in the mother’s womb. This procedure is a safe and effective way to evaluate fetal heart development and screen for congenital heart defects before birth.
When Is Fetal Echocardiography Recommended?
Fetal echocardiography is usually performed in a pregnant woman’s second trimester, between weeks 18 and 24, although some tests can be performed as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
A physician may order this test if:
- Ultrasound imaging or another routine test detects a potential fetal heart defect
- The mother has a family history of heart disease
- The mother became pregnant at an advanced age
- The mother has previously given birth to a child with a heart defect
- The mother has consumed alcohol or used drugs while pregnant
- The mother has taken medications, including certain acne and epilepsy drugs, that can increase the risk of fetal heart conditions
- The mother has certain health conditions, such as diabetes or lupus
- The baby is at risk for a condition that may impact heart health
What Does Fetal Echocardiography Involve?
There are two methods of performing fetal echocardiography:
An abdominal echocardiography involves gently gliding a small device known as a transducer over the patient’s belly with the assistance of a special gel that is applied to the skin to reduce friction. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves that echo off solid structures, including the baby and its heart. The sound waves are sent to a computer that produces images of the baby’s heart for evaluation.
The same technology is used during a transvaginal echocardiography, except the transducer is gently inserted a few inches into the vagina instead of glided over the abdomen. This transducer may also be smaller and thinner. The transvaginal method is typically used earlier in a woman’s pregnancy and may provide more detailed images of the fetal heart.
What Should I Expect During a Fetal Echocardiography Test?
A fetal echocardiogram test is a safe, non-invasive procedure that is performed using the lowest possible ultrasound settings and without radiation. It can take between 30 minutes and two hours to complete, depending on what type of test is necessary and the baby’s health. The patient does not need to have a full bladder for the test.
Expectant mothers can rely on Tampa General Hospital’s Women’s Institute for advanced prenatal care and labor and delivery services, including diagnostics such as fetal echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging and other specialized tests.