Reliability of the first-trimester cardiac scan by ultrasound-trained obstetricians with high-frequency transabdominal probes in fetuses with increased nuchal translucency

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Sep;36(3):272-8. doi: 10.1002/uog.7685.


Objective: To examine prospectively the reliability of ultrasound-trained obstetricians performing a first-trimester fetal cardiac scan with high-frequency transabdominal probes, by confirming normal or abnormal heart anatomy, in pregnancies referred for increased nuchal translucency thickness (NT).

Methods: Trained obstetric operators assessed the fetal heart in 133 fetuses with increased NT (> 95th centile) at 11-14 weeks of gestation. A high-frequency transabdominal probe was used to confirm or refute normal cardiac anatomy rather than to establish a specific diagnosis. Following this preliminary screening by the ultrasound-trained obstetrician, specialized fetal echocardiographers rescanned the fetal heart in order to confirm the accuracy of the obstetric operators' findings and to establish a diagnosis in abnormal cases. Fetal cardiologists repeated the examinations at 20 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. Postnatal follow-up lasted 2 years. Twelve fetuses with normal karyotype and normal anatomy were lost to follow-up.

Results: A total of 121 fetuses with increased NT between 11 and 14 weeks' gestation were studied. Congenital heart disease (CHD) was detected in 20/121 (16.5%) fetuses. In addition, there were three with mild ventricular disproportion, the right ventricle being larger than the left, considered as a minor non-specific cardiac abnormality. CHD was associated with chromosomal anomalies in 12/20 (60%) cases. Among the 121 fetuses, there was agreement between ultrasound-trained obstetricians and fetal cardiologists in 116 (95.9%) of the cases, and the ultrasound-trained obstetricians correctly identified 18 cases with major cardiac defects. However, there was disagreement in five cases: two with small ventricular septal defects and three with ventricular disproportion.

Conclusions: Our results provide evidence that obstetricians, trained to study the heart in the second trimester, can also differentiate reliably between normal and abnormal heart findings in the first trimester, when using a high-frequency transabdominal ultrasound probe.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chromosome Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Chromosome Disorders / embryology
  • Chromosome Disorders / genetics
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / abnormalities
  • Fetal Heart / anatomy & histology
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Nuchal Translucency Measurement / methods*
  • Obstetrics
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult