Dynamic esophageal patency assessment: an effective method for prenatally diagnosing esophageal atresia

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2021 Dec;225(6):674.e1-674.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2021.06.061. Epub 2021 Jun 17.


Background: Esophageal atresia is a major anomaly with a low prenatal detection rate. We propose a sonographic method termed dynamic esophageal patency assessment.

Objective: This study aimed to assess the feasibility and performance of the dynamic esophageal patency assessment in a high-risk population.

Study design: A prospective study was conducted in a single tertiary fetal ultrasound unit for 12 months. The study group included pregnant women referred for a targeted scan because of one or more of the following: (1) polyhydramnios; (2) small or absent stomach; (3) vertebral, anal atresia, cardiac, tracheoesophageal fistula, renal, and limb abnormalities; (4) first-degree relative with esophageal atresia; and (5) genetic mutation associated with esophageal atresia. In addition to dynamic esophageal patency assessment, a comprehensive anomaly scan was carried out. The fetal esophagus was observed during swallowing. Cases that demonstrated uninterrupted fluid propagation through the esophagus were classified as normal. Cases that demonstrated interrupted fluid propagation, with the formation of a pouch, were classified as abnormal. Cases with unclear visualization of the esophagus or cases that failed to demonstrate either fluid propagation or a pouch were classified as undetermined. Dynamic esophageal patency assessment results were compared with postnatal findings, considered "gold standard." Test performance indices and intra- and interobserver agreements were calculated.

Results: For 12 months, 130 patients were recruited, and 132 fetuses were scanned. The median gestational age (interquartile range) at the time of scan was 31.4 weeks (29.0-35.3). Of 132 fetuses enrolled, 123 (93.2%) were normal, 8 (6%) were abnormal, and 1 (0.8%) was undetermined. Excluded from test performance analysis were 3 cases that were terminated without postmortem autopsy (1 was abnormal and 2 were normal), and a fourth case was excluded as it was classified as undetermined. The detection rate of esophageal atresia was 100%, with no false-positive or false-negative case. Sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of the dynamic esophageal patency assessment were 100%. The Kappa coefficient was 1 for both inter- and intraobserver agreements (P<.0001). The median time (interquartile range) required to complete the dynamic esophageal patency assessment was 6.00 minutes (3.00-13.25).

Conclusion: The dynamic esophageal patency assessment is a feasible and highly effective method of ascertaining an intact esophagus and detecting esophageal atresia in suspected cases.

Keywords: absent stomach; esophageal atresia; esophageal pouch; fetal swallowing; polyhydramnios; prenatal diagnosis; small stomach; tracheoesophageal fistula.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Esophageal Atresia / diagnosis*
  • Esophageal Atresia / embryology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*