A fetal echo or fetal echocardiography is an ultrasound test performed to evaluate the heart of the fetus during pregnancy and is often done as early as 20-24 weeks but can be done later in pregnancy too.
Echocardiography or Echo assesses the heart's structures and function. A small probe called a transducer (similar to a microphone) is placed on the mother's abdomen above the uterus and sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed in certain locations and at certain angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the mother's and baby's skin and other body tissues to the baby's heart tissues, where the waves bounce (or "echo") off of the heart structures. The transducer picks up the reflected waves and sends them to a computer. The computer interprets the echoes into an image of the heart walls and valves.
Fetal echocardiography can help detect fetal heart abnormalities before birth, allowing for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born. This improves the chance of survival after delivery for babies with serious heart defects.
When is a fetal echocardiogram necessary?
fetal echocardiography is not done routinely in all pregnancies and is only done in certain indications such as when the regular ultrasound finds an anomaly or if there is a history requiring the echo.
Regular anatomic ultrasound tests that are done usually around 20 weeks provide general information on different parts of the fetus including the head, chest, abdomen, and extremities. The regular ultrasound checks the fetus' heart to make sure it has all four chambers.
The following are indications to perform a fetal echocardiogram :
How is a fetal echocardiogram performed?
A fetal echocardiogram is performed by a specialist who is specially trained to perform the echocardiogram. The test is typically performed by placing a probe over the mother's abdomen to visualize the fetal heart.
During the test the transducer probe will be moved around to obtain images of different locations and structures of the fetal heart. Techniques sometimes used to obtain detailed information about the fetal heart include the following:
Fetal echocardiography can help detect fetal heart abnormalities before birth, allowing for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born. fetal echocardiography does not detect all anomalies. Detecting an anomaly often improves the chance of survival after delivery for babies with serious heart defect.
Other tests or procedures that may be needed include the following: