Summary of Important Concepts

Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect, occurring at a rate of 8/1,000 births.  Because there are many different types of heart defects, ranging from minor to life-threatening problems, examination of the fetal heart before birth has been mandated as a requirement when examining a fetus between 15 and 40 weeks of pregnancy. This has been called the STANDARD ultrasound evaluation of the heart and has been defined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, and the American College of Radiology. In Los Angeles it has been estimated that less than 10% of serious heart defects are detected before birth when the examination is performed by an obstetrician or radiologist who does not have special training evaluating the fetal heart. 

Fetal Echocardiography is a more comprehensive examination of the fetal heart than the STANDARD examination and includes identification of additional cardiac structures not defined in the STANDARD evaluation.  The physician who performs Fetal Echocardiography often uses color Doppler  ultrasound and may utilize pulsed Doppler, 3D, and 4D ultrasound; depending upon the circumstances of the examination. Fetal Echocardiography is an important part of Genetic Ultrasound, a new test that identifies over 95% of fetuses with Down syndrome when performed during the second-trimester of pregnancy.

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