Texas Medical Center — Houston, Texas   —   TMC NEWS
  Vol. 25, No. 2  Previous Table of Contents Home  Next February 1, 2003 

Detecting Heart Defect In Utero Increases Survival


By DAVID MATTHEWS
Texas Children’s Hospital

One in every 100 children born today is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, and many would have a greater chance of surviving if their conditions were detected prior to birth.

Most parents are comforted by the sight of their unborn baby’s beating heart on an ultrasound. However, if a problem is detected, a routine ultrasound can mean fear and uncertainty.

“No one likes hearing bad news, especially about their unborn child,” says Nancy Ayres, M.D., director of Texas Children’s perinatal cardiology and cardiac imaging and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “But detecting fetal abnormalities before birth allows for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born, and greatly improves the chances of a successful outcome.”

A fetus’ heart problem is diagnosed by an echocardiogram that assesses the heart’s structures, and functions. with a small ultrasound transducer. The transducer is placed on the mother’s abdomen and sends out ultrasonic waves that bounce, or echo, off the baby’s heart structure.

If a problem is detected, it is frequently recommended that a mother give birth at a hospital that is affiliated with comprehensive pediatric heart center such as Texas Children’s. Furthermore, national studies have shown that survival rates are highest at the busiest of these pediatric heart centers.

Many congenital heart defects require medical intervention immediately after birth.

Expectant mothers should consult with their obstetrician about whether or not their fetus needs to be screened for a heart condition. If there is a family history of congenital heart disease, a suspected genetic abnormality or the obstetrician suspects a cardiac defect, a fetal echo is often recommended.

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