Heart disease in babies are commoner than thought; about 5 % of all pregnancies have a baby with heart defects and 1 % of all live births have heart defects. Foetal echocardiography (Foetal echo) is the detailed evaluation of the heart of the foetus (baby in mother’s womb) to check for any abnormalities so that decisions can be taken during the pregnancy in the best interest of the foetus.
It is usually done during the second trimester of pregnancy when the woman is about 16 – 22 weeks pregnant. The procedure is similar to that of a pregnancy ultrasound; you will lie down for the procedure. The test can be performed on your belly (abdominal ultrasound) or through your vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
In an abdominal ultrasound, the person performing the test places a clear, water-based gel on your belly and then moves a hand-held probe over the area. The probe sends out sound waves, which bounce off the baby’s heart and create a picture of the heart on a computer screen. In a transvaginal scan, a much smaller probe is placed into the vagina. A transvaginal ultrasound can be done early in the pregnancy and produces a much clearer image than an abdominal ultrasound.
Foetal echocardiography is done under the following circumstances.
Between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy in routine cases. In special situations with additional risks (abnormal first-trimester scan, parent or sibling with heart defect etc.) it can be done between 14 and 16 weeks of pregnancy.
No special preparation is needed for this test.
You will not feel the ultrasound waves.
Usually, the report will be ready by same day/ next day. For certain conditions which need to be discussed in the team, the reporting may be delayed by 48 – 72 hours.
The echocardiogram found no problem in the Foetal heart relevant to the gestational period.
Abnormal results may be due to:
There are no known risks to the mother or foetus.
Some heart defects cannot be seen before birth even with foetal echocardiography. These include small holes in the heart or mild wave problems. Sometimes, it may not be possible to see every part of the blood vessels leading out of the baby’s heart. Certain diseases may evolve during pregnancy (eg: heart muscle disease, valve narrowing/ leak) and may not be seen at the scanning time.
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