Fetal echocardiography (echo) is performed using ultrasonic sound waves to precisely check the heart of the developing baby. It assists pediatric cardiologists to detect heart defects before a child’s birth. If any heart problem is found in the early stage, the chances of treatment to respond with positive results increases, as
- Some issues are treatable before the child’s birth;
- The doctor will be ready for the delivery of the baby and can handle complication during labor;
- In some cases, it may require to schedule delivery before date;
- It’s easy to decide the after treatment options of the baby after his/her birth.
How is a fetal echocardiogram performed?
The testing procedure is performed by the specially trained ultrasound sonographer and the images received are read and examined by an expert pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Gaurav Agarwal FNB (Pediatric Cardiology), MD (Pediatrics) specializing in congenital heart ailments.
The assessment of the fetal heart is limited and is done exactly like a regular obstetric ultrasound which is highly appropriate and safe for both mother and child. In some cases, the doctor will advise you to go for the detailed fetal echocardiogram, which is undeniably required to be performed to minimize any evolving risk in the child’s heart. In such cases, a specially trained team of physicians will examine the fetal cardiac evaluation.
Technically, there are two ways to do a fetal echocardiogram examination:
- Abdominal Ultrasound:
One of the most common forms of Ultrasound to check the growth and development of a baby’s heart. In this, the gel is applied to the mother’s abdomen, and a small ultrasound probe is gently placed on the belly area to capture the images of the fetus’s heart. It will revolve around certain angles to get a clear image. The test will take 30 mins to 120 minutes depending upon the complexity of the child’s heart. Abdominal Ultrasound has no side effects and is safe for pregnant women and babies.
- Endovaginal ultrasound:
Endovaginal Ultrasound is done in an early stage of pregnancy. The procedure requires an ultrasound transducer ( small probe) to be placed into the vagina and rests against the back of the organ. At the same time, the sonographer will monitor the images taken of the baby’s heart flashing on the computer’s screen.
Why does one need a Fetal Echocardiogram?
The doctor will recommend for fetal echocardiogram in certain cases, where some risk involved like;
- Hereditary heart problems run in the family
- The first child was born with a heart defect
- Genetic issues are detected in the fetus.
- Mother is prone to drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
- Mother is a chronic patient of diabetes, lupus, or phenylketonuria
- Mother is on medications that increase the risk of congenital heart defects to the baby. These medications can be taken for depression, acne, or seizures.
- The abnormality is detected during a routine ultrasound.
- The mother conceived the child with the assistance of reproductive technology.
- Mother has been prone to certain infections like rubella and others
- The mother becomes pregnant at an early age
- Or the baby is seen with the irregular ( too fast or too slow) heartbeats in the examination.
With the family history of heart issues, a fetal echocardiogram is performed in between 18 to 24 weeks of pregnancy known as the second trimester.
Any risk involved during a fetal echocardiogram?
A fetal echocardiogram is done using the safest ultrasound technology, which does not cause any harm to the mother or the developing baby inside the uterus.
What are the pre-test requirements for a fetal echocardiogram?
The evaluation can be performed without any need for an empty stomach or full bladder requirements. The patient should feel comfortable, according to Dr. Gaurav Agrawal. In maximum cases, it will take 45 minutes for the process to be done under the supervision of a specialized sonographer. An expert will review all the images acquired and make a report of examination.
The patient will be guided and entirely directed about the findings of the examination if any complications are detected. With the help of a team of experts, you will be informed about the implications and the line of treatment, if required.
What happens after Fetal Echocardiogram?
Your reports will be sent to the expert pediatric cardiologist for the review. If any issue or complications are detected in the fetal echocardiogram, then the doctor will advise going for the some required testings, that may include;
- Treatment: In some cases, the doctor will prescribe medicine or treatments to cure congenital heart diseases.
- Non-Stress Test: It involves the detection of prenatal heart and movement inside the uterus.
- Prenatal Wellness Evaluation: The doctor will advise for the assessment to check overall health and prenatal movements.
- Biophysical profile (BPP): It is performed like a regular ultrasound to check the fetus heart rate, movement, muscle tone, breathing, and the amount of amniotic fluid.
- Another round of Ultrasound/Echocardiography: To keep a follow-up, the doctor may advise for these tests to check prenatal growth, frequent heart changes, and other problems.
- Amniocentesis: It is a particular test to check the genetic or chromosomal disorders that leads to congenital disabilities in the baby. The procedure requires a sample of amniotic fluid which is sucked through a needle inserted through the abdominal & uterine wall into the amniotic sac.
Genetic Counseling: These sessions of counseling will help the family to learn about the disease/defects, treatments, risk, and precautions involved during the pregnancy with a child having genetic defects.