Learning that a baby will be born with a heart defect is alarming news for any family. The uncertainty and unknown effects the condition can bring can be devastating to face.
Thanks to advances in medicine, there is hope. Due to the evolution of imaging technology and surgical interventions, more people are living longer lives with congenital heart disease (CHD), a heart defect present at birth. CHD is the most common type of birth defect, affecting approximately one in every 100 births annually in the United States.
If a heart defect is present, an obstetrician or maternal-fetal-medicine specialist will refer the mother to a fetal cardiologist, a physician with expertise in diagnosing and managing heart conditions before birth. The fetal cardiologist may prescribe a fetal echocardiogram, a type of test that uses sound waves to create detailed images of the unborn baby’s heart and diagnose the condition.
The fetal echocardiogram takes about 30 minutes to an hour, but it can take longer if the baby is in a challenging position or if there are abnormal findings. Imaging can detect heart anomalies in a fetus as early as four months into gestation. The heart issues that can be diagnosed in utero can include congenital heart defects, arrhythmias, cardiac tumors, and other heart abnormalities.
Advance knowledge of a heart defect allows the care team to:
- Provide families with comprehensive education and counseling.
- Treat the condition before birth, when possible.
- Create an action plan for both before and after your baby’s birth.
- Evaluate the effect on the heart of non-cardiac disorders and determine whether further treatment is necessary.
The right care team can offer the most innovative treatments available for CHD and will spend the time needed to compassionately guide the family through every step of the care process. Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s Heart Institute offers a Fetal Cardiology Program to improve the care and quality of life of infants with congenital heart disease through diagnosis, prenatal planning, and post-natal care.