Fetal Cardiac Testing

When you feel overwhelmed with the possibility that your unborn child has a congenital heart condition, fetal cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital can help.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Early diagnosis means better treatment: Because fetal and pediatric cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital understand that early diagnosis translates to improved outcomes, they use the latest technology in cardiac testing to determine heart issues as early as possible in your pregnancy.
  • Critical support when its needed most: To make sure you and your child are supported, your care team focuses on educating you about your child’s condition and what to expect; treatment options during pregnancy; and a post-delivery plan of care to give your child the proper head start on the road to health.
  • Expert care for high-risk pregnancies: The specialists in the Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center at Rush understand the challenges and risks associated with being pregnant with a baby who has a heart defect. Because of this, your care team will work diligently to find a diagnosis in order to provide the best treatment and proper support you need to take care of your child.
  • Family-centered approach: At Rush University Children’s Hospital, our team of dedicated fetal experts ensures that your entire family has coordinated care to ensure your child’s health through pregnancy — and into the future.

What is fetal cardiac testing?

Fetal cardiac testing allows fetal cardiologists to diagnose your baby’s heart condition and determine how to best treat your baby while in the womb, as well as after birth — and beyond.

Your baby may be more likely to need cardiac testing if you have experienced any of the following:

  • Abnormal prenatal test results
  • Congenital heart disease runs in your family
  • Diagnosis of systemic disease such as diabetes or lupus
  • Suspected fetal irregularities
  • Taking certain types of medications such as for seizures
  • Use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other artificial reproductive techniques

Types of fetal cardiac testing

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists at Rush, along with pediatric cardiologists and neonatal-perinatal medicine specialists, work together to evaluate your baby’s heart function and structure to determine the best course of action. Common types of fetal cardiac testing include the following:

Fetal echocardiogram

This fetal cardiac test is a highly detailed ultrasound of the baby’s heart in the womb. It’s usually done, initially, at about 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy. A transducer or wand-like instrument, which acts as a camera, sends out ultrasonic soundwaves when it’s pressed against the abdomen. The soundwaves echo or bounce off your baby’s heart, get sent to the camera and then create a moving picture of the heart.

The purpose of the fetal echocardiogram is to examine the function and structure of your baby’s heart. Fetal echocardiograms allow our team to determine if and when treatment is needed and then make a treatment plan. Multiple fetal echocardiograms are sometimes needed during pregnancy.

Fetal MRI

If an ultrasound doesn’t give enough information, a fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be needed. This non-invasive cardiac test uses radio and magnetic waves to capture images quickly of the moving baby.

To capture images, patients lie in a tunnel-like machine that has a magnet, which creates a magnetic field. Pulses of radio waves are also sent out.  These radio waves move water molecules out of their normal position and when they realign, they send out radio signals. These signals then get converted into the image of your baby. 

On average, a fetal MRI may take between 30 and 45 minutes to complete.

Since the test provides detailed images of the baby’s chest and lungs, your care team can better determine the overall heart health of your baby and any problems related to it.

Genetic counseling

Once a heart diagnosis is confirmed, geneticists and genetic counselors may work with you to determine if there’s a likelihood of a genetic syndrome and possible irregularities with other organs.

Genetic counseling can provide the following information:

  • Consequences of any genetic disorder
  • Probability of developing or transmitting a genetic disorder
  • Preventing a genetic disorder, if possible
  • Treatment and management of a genetic disorder

High-level fetal ultrasounds

In high-level fetal ultrasounds, high-frequency soundwaves are used to examine fetal development and growth. This noninvasive fetal cardiac test involves a technician applying gel to your abdomen and using a transducer to transmit soundwaves to the uterus, which creates detailed images of your baby.

This detailed ultrasound helps determine the following:

  • Fetal growth
  • Fetal well-being
  • Fetal abnormalities in other organs