Fetal echocardiography: accuracy and limitations in a population at high and low risk for heart defects

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1992 May;166(5):1473-81. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(92)91622-h.


Objective: Our objective was to assess the accuracy of prenatal echocardiography in detecting congenital heart defects in patients at high and low risk for structural cardiac anomalies.

Study design: Sixty-nine consecutive fetuses with congenital heart defects who had had prenatal ultrasonography at greater than or equal to 18 weeks' gestation were evaluated to determine the accuracy of prenatal ultrasonography in identifying structural cardiac defects. Thirty-nine patients were at high risk and 30 patients were at low risk for cardiac anomalies. All fetuses were scanned with standard four-chamber and outflow tract views. Data concerning extracardiac anomalies and karyotypic abnormalities were tabulated. The accuracy of the four-chamber view alone in identifying congenital heart defects was evaluated.

Results: Fifty-seven of 69 fetuses (83%) were prenatally identified ultrasonographically as having a heart defect. There was no difference in the sensitivity of detecting cardiac anomalies between high-risk and low-risk groups. When the four-chamber view was used, only 63% of fetuses were recognized as having an abnormal heart. Extracardiac anomalies were noted in 36% and karyotypic abnormalities in 17% of patients.

Conclusion: The four-chamber and outflow tract views done routinely in an ultrasonography laboratory seeing a mixed population of patients was successful in detecting 83% of fetuses with structural cardiac malformations. Because 43% of the fetuses with heart defects were referred for low-risk indications, systematic ultrasonographic examination of the fetal heart should not be reserved only for those at high risk.

MeSH terms

  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Echocardiography*
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / diagnostic imaging*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / embryology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / genetics
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*