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Fetal Echocardiography is a non-invasive that uses sound waves to assess the condition of the heart of an unborn and developing baby. The test is very similar to an ultrasound and helps in better evaluation of the structure and functioning of the heart of an unborn child. The test is usually performed on women who are in their second trimester (in 18 to 24 weeks) of pregnancy. However, it can also be done during the later stages of pregnancy, if the need arises. Fetal echocardiography is also used to check for any heart defects in the child before birth. 

In fetal echocardiography (echo) the sound waves echo back from the structure of the baby’s heart, which are then analysed by the help of a machine that converts these sound waves into images of the heart’s internal structure. This helps in a detailed analysis of the baby’s heart, its health, functioning, blood flow and also checks for any deformities or abnormalities in the heartbeat or rhythm. The test is safe and painless and is performed to minimize risks of heart defects at birth.

Purpose of Fetal Echocardiography

Fetal echocardiography is not compulsory and is recommended to pregnant women in whom a basic ultrasound might not have been able to deliver conclusive results of the child’s heart. It can also be recommended in cases, where an abnormality or an abnormal heartbeat is detected in the foetus. 

Cases where fetal echocardiography is highly recommended include, but are not limited to:

  • Women who have a family history of heart diseases
  • Women whose first child has a heart condition
  • Women who consume alcohol or drugs during pregnancy
  • Women who have taken or have been exposed to medications and drugs that can cause heart abnormalities
  • Women who have medical health conditions involving diabetes of type 1, rubella, etc.
  • Women who have certain infection during pregnancy
  • Women have abnormal test results 
  • Women who conceive using assisted reproductive technology
  • Foetus diagnosed with a genetic problem
  • Abnormalities in ultrasound
  • Women who become pregnant at an advanced stage

Procedure of Fetal Echocardiography

The test is non-invasive, safe and usually takes about 30 minutes to be performed. There are no preparations that need to be done before the test and is very similar to a routine pregnancy ultrasound. Fetal echocardiography is done through the abdomen or the vagina; if done through the former, it is called abdominal echocardiography, while the latter is called transvaginal echocardiography.

In abdominal echocardiography, you will be required to lie down. Then a special lubricating gel will be applied on the bare belly which will enable the technician to use an ultrasound transducer to send and receive signals from the sound waves over the skin. The transducers sends sound waves through the body, which eco upon hitting the child’s heart are reflected back to the transducer and are then converted into images on a screen. The transducer is moved all over the stomach to get complete images of the heart. 

In case of transvaginal echocardiography, a small probe is inserted into the vagina which sends sound waves to provide images of the baby’s heart. This method is usually sued during the early stages of pregnancy and also provided better images than abdominal echocardiography.

Post both procedures, the gel or the probe, are removed from the body, and the patient can return to a normal routine within no time. The procedure is highly safe since it uses ultrasound technology and not radiation.

The results of the test will be explained by the doctor and treatment or precautions, if any, will also be suggested. There might be a need for another echocardiography if any abnormalities are detected in the first test. In many cases, if the results of the echocardiography are non-conclusive, the doctor might suggest more tests such as MRI scan or other high-level ultrasounds to properly diagnose the condition. However, it is critical to note that a fetal echocardiogram may not be able to diagnose all health conditions; some issues such as a hole in the heart are difficult to diagnose even with advanced procedures.

Risks of Fetal Echocardiography

Fetal echocardiography is a non-invasive and safe procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the baby’s heart. The test does not use radiation which makes it even safer. The procedure has not reported any negative effects on the development of the child and hence, does not have significant risks involved. 

Fetal echocardiography is an easy and safe test which is recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester to check for the health and functioning of the baby’s heart. The test is helpful in diagnosing issues and enabling treatment to treat the condition, if any, early on. 

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