A fetal echo as a special ultrasound that evaluates a baby’s heart anatomy and heart rhythm in detail.
Your obstetrician will decide if you need to have a fetal echo. In general, mother's who are at increased risk for having a baby with a heart abnormality should have a fetal echo. Some of the risk factors are...
The baby’s heart can be evaluated as early as 16 weeks gestation, or anytime after that. It is useful to wait until 20-24 weeks, when the resolution of the echo may be improved.
In general, fetal echos are very accurate, and can detect nearly all forms of heart disease, including most major heart defects. However, because fetal circulation is different from the baby's
circulation after birth, a few defects may not be found until after the baby is born. Also, some minor defects may not be detected on a fetal ago. The accuracy of the echo is also very dependent on the image quality, movement of the baby, and the baby's position in the uterus.
There has been no evidence to suggest that the ultrasound energy used in a fetal echo can be harmful to babies.
A sonographer who is specially trained and certified in fetal echocardiography will perform the echo. The sonographer will evaluate all of the heart chambers, valves, and blood vessels leaving the heart. He/she will also evaluate the baby’s heart rhythm.
On average, a fetal echo takes 30-60 minutes, but it can also take longer. The time needed is highly variable, and depends on the quality of the images that can be obtained, activity of the baby, and the complexity of the findings.
Heart defects occur in almost 1% of children. Many of these defects are minor and did not require treatment. Other defects require treatment such as medication or surgery. The pediatric cardiologist will discuss the results of the echo with you and inform you of any treatment options. The pediatric cardiologist will also work closely with your obstetrician to make plans for safe delivery of the baby, or to provide intervention during the pregnancy if needed.