Fetal echocardiography is a test similar to an ultrasound. This exam allows your doctor to better see the structure and function of your unborn child’s heart. It’s typically done in the second trimester, between weeks 18 to 24.
The exam uses sound waves that “echo” off of the structures of the fetus’ heart. A machine analyzes these sound waves and creates a picture, or echocardiogram, of their heart’s interior. This image provides information on how your baby’s heart has formed and whether it’s working properly.
It also allows your doctor to see the blood flow through their heart. This in-depth look allows your doctor to find any defects or abnormalities in the baby’s blood flow or heartbeat.
Not all pregnant women need a fetal echocardiogram. For most women, a basic ultrasound will show that all four chambers of their baby’s heart have developed. Your obstetrician may recommend that you have this procedure done if previous tests detected an abnormal heartbeat in the fetus.
You may also need this test if:
- your unborn child is at risk for a heart abnormality or other disorder present at birth
- you have a family history of heart disease
- you already have a child with a heart condition
- you’ve used drugs or alcohol during your pregnancy
- you’ve taken certain medications or been exposed to medications that can cause heart defects, such as medications used to treat epilepsy or prescription acne drugs
- you have other medical conditions, including rubella, type 1 diabetes, lupus, or phenylketonuria, which is an inability to break down an important amino acid called phenylalanine
Some obstetricians can perform this test themselves. Usually, an experienced ultrasound technician, or ultrasonographer, performs the test. A cardiologist who specializes in pediatric medicine will then review the results after your test is finished.