How is a Fetal Echocardiogram Performed (And Other Common Questions)?

If your physician has ordered a fetal echocardiogram for your child, you may be left with a mind full of questions. How is a fetal echocardiogram performed? What does it mean for you and baby? Get answers to these questions and more so you can feel more knowledgeable about echocardiography.

What is a Fetal Echocardiogram, and Why Do I Need One?

A fetal echocardiogram is similar to a standard ultrasound, but the results are clearer and allow a physician to see your unborn child’s heart in order to evaluate its structure, blood flow, and function. This procedure is completed around weeks 18 to 24, also known as the second trimester. The echocardiogram works by allowing a machine to analyze sound waves echoed off of your unborn baby’s heart to create a picture of the organ’s interior to evaluate whether or not it is working as it should be.

You may need a fetal echocardiogram for your child if you have a heart condition, there is a family history of heart disease, or it seems that the baby has or is at risk of having a heart abnormality of its own. If you have a certain medical condition, such as lupus, diabetes, or rubella, a physician may order an echocardiogram to ensure that the fetus’s heart is healthy.

How is a Fetal Echocardiogram Performed?

There are two types of echocardiograms that may be performed. One is transvaginal, and the other abdominal. The transvaginal process is usually performed in earlier stages of pregnancy and may provide a clearer image of the heart than an abdominal procedure. This method requires you to take any clothing off of your lower body and lie down on the exam table. Then, the sonographer or ultrasound technician will insert a probe into your vagina. This probe is small and releases the sound waves needed to create the image of the fetus’s heart.

An abdominal echocardiogram is very similar to an abdominal ultrasound. All you need to do is lie on the exam table, expose your belly, and let the technician apply a lubricating jelly to your visible skin. The technician will then rub what is known as a transducer across the lubricant, which then creates the sound waves needed to generate the final image of your child’s heart. Finally, the jelly will be cleaned up and you will be finished with the procedure.

What Happens When the Results Come In?

Any concerning results will be taken very seriously, but keep in mind that a repeat echocardiogram may still be needed. Even if daunting information is found, follow-up procedures will be ordered to ensure the results of the echocardiogram were accurate. These could include genetic testing, consultations with other specialists, or a fetal MRI scan, to name a few examples. Rest assured that your physician will let you know what next steps are required.

What Else Should I Know?

Unlike a standard ultrasound, a fetal echocardiogram requires no preparation on your part. You do not need to make sure your bladder is full beforehand, which may come as a surprise and a relief. What you do have to remember is that this test might only take 30 minutes, but it could also take up to two hours. You may want to plan your day accordingly. Since no radiation is being used, you do not have to worry about any harmful effects to you or your soon-to-be little one’s health.

Now that you have a better idea of how a fetal echocardiogram is performed, you can spend less time worrying and wondering about the procedure and get back to taking care of your and your growing baby’s health. If you still have questions, talk to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Arizona’s Valley Perinatal Services.

Want to learn more about echocardiography or how a fetal echocardiogram is performed? Looking to make an appointment with one of our perinatologists? Talk to your obstetric care team, and then contact Valley Perinatal Services to schedule. You can reach us online or by calling (480) 756-6000.