A fetal echocardiogram is a highly specialized type of prenatal ultrasound. This type of imaging study is performed to evaluate the structure of the heart of the unborn child. It is much more comprehensive than just looking at the "4-chamber view" that most people are accustomed to seeing. The heart rate, rhythm, chamber sizes, cardiac valves and many additional views are utilized to look at the cardiac structures from multiple planes and perspectives.
Who should receive a fetal echocardiogram?
Certain types of parental, medical and fetal conditions carry a higher risk for having a baby with a congenital cardiac defect. Pregnancies that fall into one of these categories may benefit from this test.
Maternal conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, maternal exposure to certain medications, genetic conditions, parental or a close family relative with a history of a congenital heart defect are all indications for a fetal echocardiogram.
Fetal conditions that warrant this test include an abnormal appearing fetal heart, cardiac arrhythmias, fetal hydrops, abnormal karyotype, midline defects and a few other abnormalities.
When should a fetal echocardiogram be performed?
This type of scan is best performed between 20 -25 weeks of gestation. In some cases, the scan may be performed earlier to assess the heart, but may need to be repeated later on for evaluation of the heart after further growth.