“My obstetrician says I need a fetal echocardiogram. What do I need to know?” We’re answering some of the most important questions when it comes to fetal echocardiograms, or prenatal ultrasounds used to look for heart problems in utero.
What is a fetal echocardiogram?
A fetal echocardiogram is a special prenatal ultrasound done to look for heart problems in a baby in utero. These types of defects are the most common birth defect, present in around one percent of all humans.
The majority of these defects are not life threatening; however, a small minority require surgery in the first weeks of life. The fetal echocardiogram is a focused and complete study of your baby’s heart. We spend as much time examining the heart as an obstetrician spends examining the entire baby.
Why do I need a fetal echocardiogram?
There are many reasons your obstetrical provider may want you to have a fetal echocardiogram. The main reasons are an increased risk for congenital heart disease based on family risk factors.
Major risk factors include maternal diabetes mellitus, a family history of congenital heart disease, maternal autoimmune disease (like lupus or Sjogren syndrome), or a history of in vitro fertilization. These factors increase the risk of heart disease in the fetus above the baseline 1% risk. Also, your obstetrical provider may have concerns about the fetus’s heart rhythm or anatomy based on second trimester anatomy scans.
What can I expect on the day of my visit?
On the day of the visit, you will have a 30 to 60 minute fetal echocardiogram in a private room. After, you will meet with a fetal cardiologist who will provide you with an accurate understanding of the baby’s cardiac anatomy. Hopefully, this will be a happy conversation about normal cardiac anatomy.
However, if heart disease is found, this will be described in detail. Your physician will give you a clear and truthful prognosis and outline management and treatment options. We understand that this is a very difficult conversation for parents, and we are committed to being as clear and compassionate as possible.
Ochsner has seven clinic sites across the state where we provide fetal echocardiograms. In the event that a fetal echocardiogram is needed, we will find a clinic and appointment time to best suit your needs.
If my baby is diagnosed with heart disease, how does having a prenatal diagnosis make a difference?
Babies with heart disease who are diagnosed prenatally are healthier than those diagnosed after birth. This is for many reasons. Because the pediatric cardiology team knows about these babies before birth, they can be born at a hospital with high level neonatal, pediatric cardiology, pediatric critical care and pediatric cardiac surgery teams in place.
This results in no delay in care and has been shown to improve the severity of illness and neurodevelopmental outcomes. In certain types of heart problems, prenatal diagnosis has also been shown to improve survival.
Who is involved?
At Ochsner, all fetal echocardiograms are done by specially trained pediatric cardiologists and cardiac sonographers. We are the only hospital in Louisiana that is accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission for fetal echocardiography, which means that we have the highest standards for the quality of our work.
You will also meet a nurse coordinator who will be in touch with you to arrange your appointment and guide you through your visit.