Fetal cardiology is a new field in pediatric cardiology. Specialists in this field make the diagnosis of heart diseases in unborn children as early as the 4th month of pregnancy. Making early diagnosis is essential in many cases to prepare for management after the child is born. In addition certain heart diseases, such as abnormal heart rhythms could be treated during pregnancy to ensure the delivery of a healthier child.
Pediatric cardiologists specializing in the field of heart diseases in the unborn child are called fetal cardiologists. Obstetricians specializing in maternal fetal medicine (the care of women with high risk pregnancies due to maternal or fetal diseases) team with fetal cardiologists in the care of children with heart diseases.
At the Center for Congenital and Structural Heart Disease at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, our experts in fetal cardiology work together with the Maternal-Fetal Medicine team at Rush to provide advanced care for mothers and their children with heart diseases.
Mothers may be referred to a fetal cardiologist for a consultation for a variety of reasons such as:
- The possibility of abnormal heart structure as detected by obstetrical ultrasound (sonogram) tests, or the presence of other medical problems in the fetus, which may be associated with heart disease.
- A history of congenital heart disease in the siblings, parents or other family members of the baby.
- Exposure by the mother to certain infections, drugs or medicines that may cause heart defects in babies.
- Medical condition in the mother, such as diabetes or lupus, which may affect the cardiac development of the unborn child.
- Abnormal chromosomes of the unborn child, such as Down syndrome.
- Abnormal heart rhythm of the unborn child.
Fetal cardiologists use ultrasound equipment to see the structure and function of the unborn child’s heart. Specialized echocardiogram machines emit sound waves. These sound waves go through mother and fetus and bounce back to the probe placed on the mother’s abdomen. Reflected sound waves are used by the machine's computer system to reconstruct the image and motion of the heart structures of the fetus. A fetal echocardiogram is a test performed to look at a baby’s heart. This safe, painless, noninvasive test uses sound waves to assess the structure and function of the baby’s heart. At the Center for Congenital and Structural Heart Disease at Rush University Medical Center, specialists who have extensive expertise in fetal cardiology, echocardiography, and congenital heart disease perform and interpret fetal echocardiograms.
Upon making the diagnosis of a heart disease in a fetus, fetal cardiologists meet with mothers and discuss in depth the medical condition of the fetus. Subsequent follow-up meetings to further assess the fetus progress as well as meeting with other specialists are arranged with planning of delivery and management of the fetus.
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