Fetal cardiac arrhythmia detection and in utero therapy

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2010 May;7(5):277-90. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2010.32.


The human fetal heart develops arrhythmias and conduction disturbances in response to ischemia, inflammation, electrolyte disturbances, altered load states, structural defects, inherited genetic conditions, and many other causes. Yet sinus rhythm is present without altered rate or rhythm in some of the most serious electrophysiological diseases, which makes detection of diseases of the fetal conduction system challenging in the absence of magnetocardiographic or electrocardiographic recording techniques. Life-threatening changes in QRS or QT intervals can be completely unrecognized if heart rate is the only feature to be altered. For many fetal arrhythmias, echocardiography alone can assess important clinical parameters for diagnosis. Appropriate treatment of the fetus requires awareness of arrhythmia characteristics, mechanisms, and potential associations. Criteria to define fetal bradycardia specific to gestational age are now available and may allow detection of ion channelopathies, which are associated with fetal and neonatal bradycardia. Ectopic beats, once thought to be entirely benign, are now recognized to have important pathologic associations. Fetal tachyarrhythmias can now be defined precisely for mechanism-specific therapy and for subsequent monitoring of response. This article reviews the current and future diagnostic techniques and pharmacologic treatments for fetal arrhythmia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / mortality
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / therapy*
  • Atrioventricular Block / diagnosis
  • Atrioventricular Block / mortality
  • Atrioventricular Block / therapy
  • Bradycardia / diagnosis
  • Bradycardia / mortality
  • Bradycardia / therapy
  • Echocardiography, Doppler / methods
  • Electrocardiography / methods
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Diseases / mortality
  • Fetal Diseases / therapy*
  • Fetal Heart / abnormalities
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging
  • Fetal Heart / physiopathology
  • Fetal Monitoring / methods
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart Conduction System / abnormalities
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Rate
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods