Objective: To investigate the outcome of fetuses affected by congenital heart defects (CHD), either detected or undetected at ultrasound screening, according to their complexity and severity.
Design: The study group comprised 3633 malformed fetuses entered into the Eurofetus database of which 798 had CHD. We compared the short-term outcome in cases where a CHD was detected by ultrasound screening with that in cases where a CHD was not detected. Isolated and associated CHD (ICHD and ACHD) and the degree of severity of defects were considered separately. Outcome data included termination of pregnancy (TOP), intrauterine fetal death, neonatal death (< 6 days after birth), gestational age at diagnosis and at delivery, mode of delivery and birth weight.
Results: Of the 798 fetuses with CHD, 595 had ICHD and 203 had ACHD. The diagnosis of an anomaly was made significantly earlier in ACHD cases. TOP was chosen in 28% of cases with a prenatal diagnosis of CHD, 20% for ICHD and 37% for ACHD (P < 0.001). The survival rate of antenatally diagnosed fetuses was lower in those with ACHD than in those with ICHD (P < 0.001) and lower for fetuses with antenatal diagnosis than with postnatal diagnosis (P < 0.001); this was due to significant differences in the complexity and severity of the defect. Premature delivery (< 32 weeks) was more frequent in fetuses in which an antenatal diagnosis of CHD had been made. Severe CHD were diagnosed earlier and were associated with a higher rate of TOP and spontaneous loss.
Conclusions: The severity of CHD has a positive influence on the sensitivity of screening but a negative influence on the outcome. CHD that are not diagnosed antenatally include a high proportion of benign malformations. This explains the apparent paradox of a poorer outcome in fetuses in which a CHD was detected prenatally compared to those fetuses in which the defect was undetected prenatally. However, prenatal diagnosis provides parents with the option of TOP or of preventive care in specialized centers.
Copyright 2003 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.