Children's Hospital Colorado

Fetal Echocardiogram

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A fetal echocardiogram, or fetal echo, provides valuable information about the growth and development of your baby’s heart and blood vessels. The fetal cardiology experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado use this test to detect heart issues before your baby is born so we can start treatment as soon as appropriate and ensure the best outcome.

What is a fetal echocardiogram?

Fetal Echocardiogram

A fetal echocardiogram is an ultrasound that shows the structure of an unborn baby’s heart and helps detect congenital heart defects (CHD) and heart rhythm abnormalities. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the heart’s structure.

This test helps our fetal cardiology experts obtain the most accurate images and create a care plan tailored to your baby’s specific heart issue.

What conditions does a fetal echocardiogram diagnose?

A fetal echocardiogram is primarily used to diagnose two conditions:

  • Congenital heart defects: “Congenital” means the defect is present at birth. Heart defects are the most common congenital defects. These defects affect the structure of a baby’s heart and can change how it works. There are hundreds of kinds of CHDs and our fetal cardiology specialists can diagnose a majority of them before birth.
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities: Also known as a heart arrhythmia, a heart rhythm abnormality is an abnormal heartbeat. A baby’s heartbeat can be too fast, too slow, or it may be irregular. An arrhythmia can cause the heart to pump less blood to the rest of the body than it should. Some arrhythmias are harmless and others can damage the heart.

What happens before a fetal echocardiogram?

Typically, your primary care doctor will refer you for an echocardiogram if they detect something abnormal with your baby’s heart during a routine ultrasound. They may also suggest you have an echocardiogram if you have a family history of heart defects or other risk factors.

You don’t need to do anything to prepare for a fetal echocardiogram. When you come to Children’s Colorado, we will obtain a detailed health history from you and your partner. One of our fetal nurse-coordinators will talk with you about the test and answer any questions you have.

What should you expect during a fetal echocardiogram?

During your fetal echocardiogram, a cardiac sonographer who performs the echocardiogram, will put warm gel on your abdomen. They will use a transducer, which is a wand-shaped device, to send high-frequency ultrasound waves through your abdomen that produce images of your baby’s heart.

This test doesn’t harm or expose the fetus to radiation. We take many images to view all parts of the heart. Scanning usually lasts 30 to 45 minutes if you are having one baby, and about double if you are having twins. You will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat. We may reposition you to gather the most accurate pictures of your baby’s heart.

Once our care team has collected the images, our fetal cardiologists will diagnose your baby’s heart issues. Our specialists are trained specifically in diagnosing and treating only children’s heart conditions so we make the most accurate diagnosis and create a care plan specifically for your baby.

What should you expect after a fetal echocardiogram?

Typically, you will get your test results the same day. Our fetal cardiologists may want to take more ultrasound images based on the initial images. Once we obtain all the images, our fetal cardiologist and nurse-coordinator will review the results with you. They have specific expertise in caring for children’s hearts and can help explain the results to you in detail. If your baby has a heart defect or heart rhythm abnormality, our fetal cardiologist and nurse-coordinator will take as much time as needed to answer your questions.

Why choose Children’s Colorado for a fetal echocardiogram?

A fetal echo provides an earlier, more accurate diagnosis, which can lead to faster and better treatment after your baby is born. These steps can improve the chance of survival and outcomes for babies with severe heart defects. The earlier our experts see you and your baby, the sooner we can determine if your baby has any heart defects and create a treatment plan for your baby, if needed.

We have state-of-the-art ultrasound machines that produce better images for a more accurate diagnosis. Our team of fetal cardiologists and cardiac sonographers have extensive training in complex congenital heart defects and heart rhythm abnormalities. We spend extra time with you to get the best images possible and answer all your questions.

If your baby has a severe congenital heart defect, you can deliver in our Colorado Fetal Care Center, which specializes in caring for babies with birth defects and women with high-risk pregnancies. If necessary, you can deliver your baby in this Center, which allows your baby to receive the best care possible right after birth and lets you stay close to your baby while they’re recovering. We have one of the top pediatric heart teams in the country and will coordinate any ongoing care your baby needs.

Hearing that your baby might have a heart problem is stressful. We will make sure you have an accurate diagnosis and know what to expect in the future. We take the time to explain the results, answer questions and, if needed, create a care plan just for your family.