Objective: The fetal heart is not studied routinely in the first trimester because of technical and time limitations. Our aim was to assess the feasibility of performing a fetal cardiac study in pregnancies referred for nuchal translucency (NT) screening, using high-frequency linear transabdominal transducers with a specific ultrasound preset.
Methods: A single trained operator assessed the fetal heart in pregnancies with a fetal crown-rump length (CRL) of 60-84 mm that had been referred for NT screening. A 15- or 6-MHz transabdominal linear transducer with a specific preset suitable mainly for color-flow mapping was used to confirm or refute normal cardiac anatomy rather than to establish a specific diagnosis. Fetuses having an increased risk for congenital heart disease were referred to a tertiary center for a further examination within 1 week. This group consisted of all fetuses with NT > 95(th) centile and those in which a family history or the initial heart scan increased the risk.
Results: A total of 608 fetuses with a median CRL of 65 mm was examined between 2003 and 2005. A cardiac scan was performed successfully in 456 (75%) using a 15-MHz linear transducer alone, and the additional use of a 6-MHz transducer allowed diagnostic images to be obtained in a further 152. Normal cardiac anatomy was assessed confidently within 10 min in 517/608 (85%) pregnancies; in 85 (14%) a longer time was needed and six patients were rescheduled within 2 weeks because of non-diagnostic images at the initial scan. In 571/608 (94%) the risk for congenital heart disease (CHD) was not increased and the heart was considered normal at initial echocardiography; this was confirmed by later scans and at postnatal follow-up. In 37/608 (6%) fetuses the risk for CHD was increased (35 for NT > 95(th) centile and two for family history). In this group normal heart anatomy was described in 34 fetuses and confirmed by subsequent specialist echocardiography. Cardiac defects were suspected in three fetuses (all with increased NT) and confirmed by a fetal cardiologist in each case.
Conclusions: A trained operator can perform a fetal heart study during the NT screening test using transabdominal high-resolution transducers in an acceptable length of time.