What Is a Fetal Echocardiogram?

A fetal echocardiogram (also called a fetal echo) uses sound waves to create pictures of an unborn baby's heart. This painless ultrasound test shows the structure of the heart and how well it's working.

Why Is a Fetal Echocardiogram Done?

Doctors may order a fetal echocardiogram to look for any problems with the developing baby's heart walls and valves, the blood vessels leading to and from the heart, and the heart's pumping strength.

A fetal echocardiogram might be done for many reasons, including:

  • a family history of certain heart problems
  • the mother has a medical condition that may affect the baby's heart
  • the developing baby has a genetic disorder
  • an abnormality is seen on routine ultrasound during the pregnancy
  • the baby's heart could not be seen well on a routine ultrasound

How Should I Prepare for a Fetal Echocardiogram?

You should be able to eat and drink normally beforehand. You do not need a full bladder before this test. Do not put any lotions, creams, or powders on your belly on the day of the fetal echocardiogram.

What Happens During a Fetal Echocardiogram?

A fetal echocardiogram is done in a darkened room, while you are lying down. It is similar to a routine ultrasound during pregnancy. Gel put on your belly helps sounds waves travel from the echocardiogram wand (called the transducer) to the baby's heart and back again. The person doing the test will move the wand around to get pictures of the heart from different angles.

You will feel some pressure from the wand, but a fetal echocardiogram is not painful.

How Long Does a Fetal Echocardiogram Take?

It can take 30 minutes to 2 hours to get the pictures needed to see all the parts of the heart. Sometimes, the position of the baby can make it hard to see the heart, and the test will take longer.

When Are the Results Ready?

In most cases, the doctor will review the fetal echocardiogram and give you the results on the same day. Sometimes, another fetal echocardiogram will need to be done.

Are There Any Risks From a Fetal Echocardiogram?

A fetal echocardiogram is a safe procedure without any risks to you or your developing baby.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2019 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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