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Fetal Echo

A fetal echo is a specialist, detailed scan of your baby’s heart. This type of scan looks for heart defects.

About one baby in 100 has a heart defect. It’s the most common abnormality a baby can be born with. During your routine anomaly scan at 20 weeks your sonographer should take a good look at your baby's heart.

If she spots something she thinks needs a closer look, she will refer you for a specialist fetal echo scan. Your baby's heart is tiny at this stage, so she'll err on the side of caution if she thinks more detail is needed.

It's natural to feel alarmed if you're referred for a fetal echo. Rest assured that even if the scan does pick up a small heart problem, very often this won't affect your baby’s health in the long term.

You may also be referred for a fetal echo if:

You were born with a heart defect, or have already had a baby with a heart defect. You have diabetes, as this means you are slightly more likely to have a baby with a heart defect. You take certain drugs that can increase the risk of heart problems, such as some medications for epilepsy. Your baby has fluid at the back of his neck of 3.5mm (0.2in) or more (nuchal translucency) at 11 weeks plus two days to 14 weeks plus one day, but appears to have normal chromosomes. A CVS or amniocentesis will confirm this.

If you need a specialist fetal echo, your doctor will refer you to either your local fetal medicine unit, or a specialist hospital. The scan can take from half an hour to an hour, and is usually done across your tummy. A fetal medicine specialist, fetal cardiologist or specialist sonographer will perform the scan and discuss the findings with you immediately.

The fetal echo looks at how the blood is flowing through your baby’s arteries and veins. The specialist will look for a number of abnormalities, including:

  • holes in the heart
  • narrowing of arteries
  • valves that don't open and close properly
  • Most echoes will show that your baby’s heart is normal. A minor defect, such as a small hole, may close over on its own, and won’t need treatment.

    If a more serious problem is present, it’s best to find out early, as most defects can be repaired before birth. Your baby will need to be born in a hospital with a specialist unit (SCBU). She will then be in the best place if she needs surgery after she’s born.

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