Fetal Echocardiogram

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)
Fetal Echocardiogram