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Fetal echocardiograms: Who should get them and why

Congenital heart defects take place when a child is developing in the womb. It's the most common heart defect in the United States, affecting around 1 percent of all births.

A baby's heart is completely formed by the time the baby reaches eight weeks' gestation. The defect occurs if the heart doesn't twist and divide normally when it's developing, leading to a problem with the heart valves. These defects can range from mild to severe, with some requiring surgery to repair the injury to the newborn. Others resolve on their own over time.

Before a baby is born, it's possible to identify problems with his or her heart. This is done by using a fetal echocardiogram. This ultrasound shows a moving picture of the child's heart, so the doctor can evaluate the baby's heart health. The ultrasound can show blood flow, which helps show any additional defects.

There are mothers who may have a higher risk of having a child with a heart defect, and they should receive the fetal echocardiogram. If a doctor doesn't order the test for a woman with one of these factors in her history, then malpractice or medical negligence could be a claim she could make.

Some of the women who should receive fetal echocardiograms include those who have first-degree relatives with congenital heart defects, those with a family history of disorders like tuberous sclerosis or Marfan's syndrome, those with abnormal amniocentesis and those with specific medical problems like type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes that was present before pregnancy. There are other reasons as well, like if the baby shows an abnormal heart rate or rhythm.

Source: American Heart Association, "Fetal Echocardiography / Your Unborn Baby's Heart," accessed Oct. 11, 2016

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