Have you been asked to take a fetal cardiac scan? Don’t panic; it’s a simple and painless procedure that won’t take up much of your time.
A fetal cardiac scan is a detailed ultrasound of your baby’s heart before your baby is born. It gives your doctor the chance to completely evaluate your baby’s heart. This is not quite possible during your regular obstetric ultrasound.
It is usually done in your second trimester, between weeks 20–24. A fetal cardiac scan looks for heart defects, the most common abnormality your baby can be born with. It checks the flow of blood in your baby’s arteries and veins and detects other abnormalities such as:
- Narrowing of the arteries
- Holes in your baby’s heart
- Valves that don’t open and close properly
This test uses waves of sound that ‘echo’ off your baby’s heart. The echo machine then analyzes these waves and creates a picture of your baby’s heart. These pictures help your doctor carefully analyze your baby’s blood flow and heartbeat.
There are a few risk factors that prompt doctors to take a better look at your unborn baby’s heart. You may need to take this test if:
- You have a family history of heart defects
- Your unborn baby is at high risk of heart diseases or other disorders
- Your previous child has a heart condition
- Increased nuchal translucency was seen at your 12 weeks scan
- You’ve taken drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
- You’ve been taking medicines that could cause heart defects (epilepsy drugs)
- You’re suffering from diabetes or autoimmune diseases
- You’ve had an infection during pregnancy
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’ve been asked to take a fetal echo:
Don’t panic, if you’re asked to take the test
It is natural to be a bit alarmed if you’ve been asked to get a fetal cardiac scan done. Your doctor will prescribe this test only if s/he suspects that your unborn child may have an underlying heart condition. But fetal cardiac scans are commonly conducted as a precautionary measure in case you have a condition that increases the risk of heart defects in your child.
These include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, epilepsy, or a previous child with a congenital heart defect. You should try avoiding getting panicky as this only makes taking a simple test complicated.
Important insights can be gained from the test
A fetal cardiac scan has the potential to detect several heart problems including congenital heart defects, problems with your child’s heartbeat, tumours in your unborn child’s heart, and any issues with the functioning of the heart.
Your doctor can counsel you accordingly. S/He can also explain to you in detail if any kind of interventions will be needed after birth. Steps can be taken if your child has heartbeat problems that require immediate medical treatment. The results can help you create a proper plan for birthing and decide the place you wish to give birth at.
It isn’t a very long or tiring test
The test commonly lasts for 30 to 90 minutes. You need to lie flat on your back with your abdomen exposed. The sonographer then applies a lubricating gel to your exposed skin, which allows smooth movement of the ultrasound probe over your skin.
The test has no risks
The test is like a normal ultrasound and carries zero risks for you and your unborn child. The test does not use any form of radiation, so you are safeguarded from its harmful effects.
No preparation is needed before taking the test
Unlike various other procedures, there is no preparation you need to do before a fetal cardiac scan. It can be done on a full or an empty bladder.
Results don’t take much time
A specialized sonographer or technician performs the test and collects all the important images. These images are then reviewed by your doctor. S/He may sometimes take additional images for further investigations.
On completion of the scan, your doctor then explains the results of the tests to you in detail. If a congenital defect is seen on the test you will be made to understand how this will affect your baby before delivery, during delivery and throughout your baby’s lifetime.
Overall, the test is a simple procedure which is extremely advantageous in detecting adverse conditions. It is a very effective tool for doctors to diagnose and treat congenital abnormalities. Results from the test help them plan treatments your child may need such as correctional surgery.
It also gives them ample amount of time to prepare for emergencies at birth and treat certain problems before birth. A well performed fetal cardiac scan is greatly beneficial to you and your unborn baby. It helps better manage your pregnancy and prepare for birth.