Our team of experts diagnoses heart problems in babies before birth using fetal heart scans.
What is a fetal heart scan?
A fetal heart scan is an ultrasound similar to other scans performed during pregnancy but the scan focuses on examining the baby’s heart.
During the scan, the way the heart has formed will be checked to see if it has developed normally. This will include looking at blood flow and main blood vessels. The heart rhythm and heart function will also be checked.
Benefits of having a fetal heart scan
Heart abnormalities are a significant cause of infant death and, if there are concerns, there are good reasons for cardiac (heart) scanning during pregnancy.
- First, if you're at risk of having a baby with heart disease, you can have your mind put at rest if our scan shows there is no abnormality.
- Second, detecting any defect as early as possible gives you time to adjust, make choices and find out what is likely to happen after the baby is delivered.
- Third, if a problem is detected, we can help support your family and manage the condition. Scans not only show defects in the way the heart is forming but also, for example, if there are problems with the way it is beating (rhythm disturbances). These can sometimes be treated while the baby is still in the womb.
What happens during the scan?
No preparation is required for the scan and a full bladder is not necessary.
The person performing the scan will explain the procedure. The scan is very similar to normal ultrasound scans, but we concentrate on examining the baby’s heart.
The operator will have to concentrate carefully, so may not talk during the scan. The time the scan takes will vary.
Sometimes a consultant will be called into the room to help. This is often for technical reasons and does not always mean that there is a problem.
Are there any risks associated with the scan?
There are no known risks either to you or your baby.
When will the result of the scan be available?
At the end of the appointment, once the scan is finished, the results will be explained to you and any questions you have will be answered.
If a problem is found, a consultant will explain this in detail and answer any questions. Confirmation of the result will be sent to you in writing, with copies sent to your GP and obstetrician.
Will there be more than one appointment?
You may sometimes need to attend a follow up scan. If another appointment is required the reasons for this will be discussed with you.
If a problem is detected
If a heart condition is discovered, details of the problem will be explained and all available options will be discussed.
A clinical nurse specialist will be present during these discussions and will provide written information and our contact details. The clinical nurse specialist will provide support throughout the rest of your pregnancy.
We can also arrange any other necessary tests, such as a detailed scan of the rest of your baby, or an amniocentesis (a test for Down's syndrome or other specific genetic disorders available from 16 weeks of your pregnancy) at St Thomas’ Hospital (next door to Evelina London) or at a local hospital.
In some cases arrangements can be made to deliver the baby at St Thomas', under the care of a specialised obstetric team, though this is not necessary in all cases.
We are unique in the region in offering delivery and postnatal care on a single site, thus avoiding the need to transfer your baby to another hospital after birth.