A fetal echocardiogram (or “echo”) is a specialized ultrasound examination, similar to a routine obstetrician (OB) ultrasound, which focuses specifically on the unborn baby’s (also called a fetus) heart. The cardiologist will take images of the fetus’ heart structure including the heart chambers, valves and blood vessels. The blood flow throughout the heart and blood vessels is also assessed by use of Doppler "color-flow" ultrasound technique.
A fetal echo is recommended after an abnormality is seen during routine OB monitoring, ultrasound or other risk factor. Fetal echocardiograms are considered in the following circumstances:
History of a close family relative with a heart birth defect
Abnormality of the heart suggested by routine OB ultrasound
Diabetes in the pregnant mom-to-be
Birth defects seen in other areas of the fetus
Known or suspected genetic abnormality of the fetus
Exposure to chemicals or certain medicines during pregnancy
Certain infections during pregnancy like rubella (German measles)
Problems in twin pregnancies
Abnormal fetal heart rate observed during a routine OB visit
Test Completion Time
It is not unusual for fetal echocardiograms to take up to an hour to complete due to their numerous components. Fetal echocardiograms are commonly repeated to follow the development of the heart and blood flow as the fetus grows. Some cardiac conditions can progress during pregnancy and regularly checking on the unborn baby’s blood flow can help guide care recommendations at birth.
When fetal echocardiograms are done by our cardiologists, the mother receives a full discussion of what was seen and an interpretation of what problems may exist before she leaves the office. Reports are also sent to the obstetrical caregivers involved.