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Early diagnosis and ongoing evaluation allows for proper monitoring of the pregnancy and the well being of an unborn baby with a congenital heart defect. It also helps the family and the Fetal Heart Program team prepare for the baby’s delivery and any treatments that may be needed after birth.

“We continue to discover and implement new methods for monitoring fetal cardiovascular well-being and fetal physiology. This helps us and our families better prepare for the delivery of these special babies,” says Dr. Renuka Peterson, Director of the Fetal Heart Program.

 

 


The following tests will likely take place during a visit with the Fetal Heart Program team:

Fetal Echocardiogram (ECHO)

As early as 18 weeks gestation, doctors at the Fetal Heart Program can accurately detect heart conditions through a fetal echocardiogram (Fetal ECHO). This detailed ultrasound focuses on the intrauterine growth and development of the heart and great vessels. To conduct the test a trained sonographer will apply gel to the mother’s abdomen, and then gently place the ultrasound probe on the abdomen.

Photos of the fetus’ heart are taken as the probe is moved around the abdomen. The fetal cardiologist will review these images to confirm a diagnosis and evaluate the wellbeing of the fetus. This pain-free test does not cause any harm to the baby.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing is a rapidly developing technology in fetal diagnosis and therapy.  Microarray technology is the test by which the team looks for tiny pieces of missing genetic material in those diagnosed with a fetal heart anomaly.  This is usually performed by sampling some of the amniotic fluid and examining the genetic material in the fetal cells from the fluid. This is an optional test, but sometimes it can be reassuring that a birth defect is not part of a known genetic syndrome. 

We also offer Noninvasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), this new testing method, can detect chromosome abnormalities such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18) and Patau syndrome (trisomy 13) with an up to 99 percent accuracy rate.

Whatever the findings may be, the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute always offers genetic counseling from our dedicated genetic counselor to understand how the fetal diagnoses could be related to any genetic problems.

Level II Ultrasound

This detailed 3d and 4d high-resolution ultrasound allows for a targeted examination of the fetus. Level II ultrasounds are used during the anatomy screen to look at the organs, including the umbilical cord, growth of the fetus, amniotic fluid levels, the location of the placenta, and the fetal heart rate.

A level II ultrasound can take up to two hours when screening fetal abnormalities. We can use the ultrasound to examine lung growth, urine production, and track a baby’s progress.

To conduct the test a trained sonographer will apply gel to the mother’s abdomen, and then gently place the ultrasound probe on the abdomen. Photos of the fetus are taken as the probe is moved around the abdomen. The Fetal Heart Team will review these images to confirm a diagnosis and evaluate the wellbeing of the fetus. This pain-free test does not cause any harm to the baby.