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When You Need Fetal Echocardiography

Fetal echocardiography (echo) is a test that shows pictures of a baby’s heart before birth. The pictures are formed using harmless sound waves. This is called ultrasound. The test checks for problems in the baby’s heart structure or rhythm. Finding these heart problems before birth means that they can be managed early. Many heart problems can be found with fetal echo. But some can’t be seen until after the baby is born. The test is painless. It is also noninvasive, meaning nothing is put into your body.

Pregnant woman lying on back on exam table. Healthcare provider is holding transducer on skin of woman's abdomen and looking at monitor. Man is standing next to table.

Who Needs Fetal Echo?

The test can be done when you are at least 16 weeks pregnant. Your doctor may advise this test if you:

  • Had a pregnancy ultrasound that showed a possible heart problem.

  • Had problems found by other tests, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (these check for genetic diseases and chromosomal problems).

  • Have a family history of congenital heart disease.

  • Are taking certain medications that may affect your baby’s development.

  • Have a family history of certain genetic diseases linked with heart defects and disease.

  • Have diabetes or other conditions.

Before the Test

You may need to have a full bladder for the test. Follow directions for this and any other instructions you are given.

During the Test

The test takes about 30-60 minutes.

  • You lie on an exam table with your abdomen uncovered.

  • Clear, non-greasy gel is applied to the skin on your belly.

  • A hand-held probe is moved across your belly.

  • Sound waves from the transducer go to a computer. Pictures of your baby’s heart are seen on a screen.

After the Test

  • You can return to your normal routine and diet.

  • Your doctor may talk to you about the early results right after the test. You will get the final results when they are ready.

Risks and Possible Complications of Fetal Echo

There are no known risks and complications associated with fetal echo.

 

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