Fetal Echocardiography – Purpose, Procedure & Risks

fetal echo

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Ensuring the safety and well-being of your child should be every parent’s utmost priority. The fact is that even infants are not exempt from contracting harmful diseases or suffering from illnesses that you normally would not expect a baby to be plagued with.

What Is Fetal Echo Test?

A fetal echo or fetal echocardiography ensures a thorough examination which includes a scan of your baby’s heart. This scan will reveal congenital heart defects, if any. Therefore, it is a precautionary measure taken by most parents to ensure that their babies are healthy.

Why A Fetal Echo?

The doctor treating your child will ask for a fetal echo only if he feels that your baby may be suffering from a heart defect. Even if the results of the fetal echo scan show a tiny defect, it should heal on its own with time. Here are some statistics which you should be informed about:

  • About 1 in a 100 babies suffers from a heart defect.
  • It is among the most common abnormalities that your baby can be susceptible.
  • Only half the defect can be detected if the fetal echo is conducted just 20 weeks after a baby is born.

[ Read: Urine Pregnancy Test ]

When Will You Be Referred For Baby’s Fetal Echocardiography?

As stated earlier, a fetal echo is necessary to find out if there are any abnormalities in your baby’s heart. Here is when you will be required to undergo a fetal echo:

  • If you have a history of a heart defect or if you have already had a baby who suffers from a heart defect since his or her birth.
  • If you have diabetes. It should be noted that diabetic mothers are more prone to conceive babies, who will suffer from a heart defect.
  • If you have been prescribed, and consume certain drugs to deal with the fact that you are an epileptic. These drugs could affect your baby, making him or her susceptible to a heart defect.
  • If the doctor detects fluid behind your baby’s neck which measures around 3.5 mm (0.2 in) or more when he or she is around 11 or 13 weeks or even 6 days old.
  • If the sonography report suspects or even detects that there may be a problem when you go for your regular checkups at 20 weeks.

[ Read: Genetic Counseling ]

Preparation For The Procedure:

The burning question on your mind before undergoing a fetal echo is whether you need to prepare specially for this test in any way. However, we have some good news for you:

  • You do not have to prepare in any way for the test. You will also not require taking the test on a full bladder – a requirement for other pre-natal ultrasounds.
  • The test will normally last for close to 30 minutes or 2 hours, depending on the situation. Therefore, it would be advisable if you have someone accompany you for the test.

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What Happens During A Fetal Echo?

Here is a step-by-step account of how the entire test will unfold:

  • The test is quite similar to a normal pregnancy ultrasound. It is usually performed via your abdomen or through the vagina.
  • Your doctor will instruct you to lie down and expose your stomach.
  • A special lubricating jelly required for the test will be applied to your skin by an ultrasound technician. This jelly helps prevent friction when the ultrasound transducer is rubbed on your skin. Sound waves are transmitted using the jelly.
  • The transducer is used for the purpose of sending high-frequency sound waves through your body. The waves echo is reflected back when it touches upon a dense object – your baby’s heart. The sound wave pitch is very high for any human ear to hear.
  • Once the procedure is complete, the gel is wiped off your abdomen. You will then be discharged to continue your daily chores without much restriction.
  • For the transvaginal echocardiography, you will be required to undress from the waist down and then lie on the table.

[ Read: Transvaginal Scan During Pregnancy ]

  • A small probe will be made in your vagina. The probe will use the sound waves to show you the image of your baby’s heart.
  • It is typically used during the early stages of a pregnancy as it provides a clearer image of the fetal heart.

Test Results And Their Meaning:

Your doctor will be the bearer of the news of the test. Here is what the test results will mean when they are communicated by your doctor:

  • If the results are normal, it usually means that there was no abnormality found. But the fetal echo cannot be used to diagnose every possible condition. If there is a hole in the heart, even advanced equipment will not be able to detect it. You may have to undergo this test again as and when your doctor feels it is necessary to reduce any significant risks.
  • You may be asked to undergo additional tests if the doctor detects an issue. This may include a heart defect or rhythm abnormality, among other problems which could put your baby at a high risk. You may be required to go for a fetal MRI or other ultrasounds. The doctor will then explain the results during your follow-up appointment. He will also answer any questions you may have and could also refer you to child specialists.

[ Read: Is Ultrasound Safe During Pregnancy ]

The Importance Of The Test:

The fetal echo test is important for the following reasons:

  • A fetal echocardiogram could reveal abnormal results which can be quite scary. Sometimes, the test results could prove to be inconclusive or may require you to undergo additional test just to ensure about the results.
  • When you receive the results and you know where exactly the problem lies, you will be able to manage your pregnancy better. You can also prepare yourself for post baby birth.
  • The test could also help your doctor and yourself plan treatments that may be required after a correctional surgery.
  • You will also be able to seek counseling for the decisions that need to be taken after the birth of the baby.

We hope that the information we provided will help you through the fetal echo test, if you are ever required to undergo in the near future! If you experienced anything worth sharing, please do share with us by commenting below.

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