A fetal echocardiogram (ECHO) is a special ultrasound of the baby’s heart. It’s a more detailed examination of the heart than is routinely needed. Although your baby’s heart is checked during the 20 week scan, some women need a fetal ECHO as well.
Approximately 1-in-100 unborn babies have some kind of congenital heart disease (a problem in the way the heart has developed in the womb). Most of these babies will have a mild problem. However, some babies will have more severe heart problems that affect your pregnancy care and birth plan.
If a problem is found on a fetal echocardiogram, you will often be referred to a paediatric cardiologist during your pregnancy. Babies with the most serious heart problems need to be delivered in a hospital with a paediatric heart team available.
A fetal echocardiogram is ideally performed at 22-24 weeks of pregnancy, when the heart is larger and easier to image. Dr Walsh has a particular interest in fetal heart problems and has performed hundreds of fetal ECHOs in high-risk pregnancies.
Situations where a fetal ECHO is recommended include:
- Previous baby or family member with congenital heart disease
- Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
- Twins who share a placenta (monochorionic)
- Other (non-heart) abnormalities on the 20 week ultrasound
- A high nuchal translucency (NT) measurement on the 12 week ultrasound
- Women taking certain medications (anti-epileptics, SSRIs, NSAIDs, lithium)
Many (but not all) types of congenital heart disease may be diagnosed on ultrasound, including:
- Isolated ventricular septal defects (VSDs)
- Atrio-ventricular septal defect (AVSD)
- Pericardial effusion
- Tetralogy of Fallot and Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV)
- Transposition of the Great Arteries
- Fetal cardiac arrhythmias (SVT and congenital heart block)