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When You Need Fetal Echocardiography

Pregnant woman having fetal echogradiogram done. Man standing at head of table, technician performing test.
With fetal echocardiography, a transducer is moved across your abdomen to take pictures of your baby’s heart.
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, function, or rhythm. Finding these heart problems before birth means that they can be managed early. This may also help in planning for what to do after birth. 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.

Why might I need a fetal echo?

The test is usually 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 medicines 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

How should I prepare for a fetal echo?

Follow any instructions you are given.

What happens during a fetal echo?

The test takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

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

  • Clear, nongreasy gel is applied to the skin on your belly.

  • A hand-held probe (transducer) 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.

What happens after a fetal echo?

  • 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 the images have been fully looked at.

What are the risks and complications of fetal echo?

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Gandelman, Glenn, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Date Last Reviewed: 4/17/2016
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