What Is a Fetal Echo?
A fetal echocardiogram (or “echo”) is a specialized ultrasound examination performed during pregnancy, 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.
Lurie Children's Fetal Cardiology team performs more than 2,000 fetal echocardiograms at multiple sites in the greater Chicago area, with a diagnostic accuracy that exceeds 95%.
When Is a Fetal Echo Necessary?
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
What to Expect During a Fetal Echo
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.
Locations & Appointments
Pediatric cardiologists perform fetal echocardiograms at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern Medicine’s Prentice Women’s Hospital and outpatient centers in:
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.
Scheduling an echocardiogram requires a doctor's order and can be arranged through The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health. Please call 312.227.4747.