Clinical utility of repeat fetal echocardiography in congenital heart disease

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2023 Nov;62(5):695-700. doi: 10.1002/uog.26240. Epub 2023 Oct 11.


Objectives: To investigate the utility of repeat fetal echocardiography (FE) following a diagnosis of structural congenital heart disease (CHD) on the initial FE. We evaluated how often changes in management and counseling occurred based on subsequent FE findings and sought to determine which types of CHD were more likely to have changes in management and/or counseling based on repeat FE.

Methods: This was a retrospective review of all patients who presented to our center between January 2012 and January 2019 and who had more than one FE performed for structural CHD. We reviewed consultation notes to determine whether management or counseling had changed based on FE findings at follow-up visits. Management variables included a change in location or mode of delivery, plan for atrial septostomy, initiation of prostaglandin infusion, umbilical line placement and planned admission location (nursery vs neonatal intensive care unit). We defined a counseling change as any of the above changes in management as well as any meaningful refinements in the cardiac diagnosis that led to a change in the overall prognosis or future management. Initial diagnoses were grouped into anatomically/hemodynamically relevant subgroups. Fisher's exact test was used to assess the relationship between the initial diagnosis and changes in management. Post-hoc pairwise comparisons were performed using Dunnett's test.

Results: Between January 2012 and January 2019, 267 patients underwent 534 follow-up FE assessments performed for structural CHD. Management change based on repeat FE occurred in 41/267 (15.4%) cases. A change in management was associated with the diagnosis made at the initial visit (P < 0.001). The proportion of cases with a management change was highest among those with an initial diagnosis of pulmonary valve abnormality/non-critical pulmonary stenosis (4/11 (36.4%)), followed by balanced atrioventricular canal (AVC) defect (5/17 (29.4%)) and left ventricular outflow tract obstruction/aortic valve abnormality or coarctation/interrupted aortic arch (19/68 (27.9%)). No management change occurred in fetuses diagnosed with isolated ventricular septal defect (VSD), truncus arteriosus, pulmonary vein anomaly or isolated arch sidedness/branching abnormality. Compared to those with a VSD, management was significantly more likely to be changed in fetuses with a balanced AVC defect (P = 0.025) and left heart lesions (P = 0.002). Right heart lesions showed a trend towards an increased incidence of management change (P = 0.05). A counseling change based on repeat FE occurred in 108/267 (40.4%) cases. The proportion of cases with a counseling change was highest among those with an initial diagnosis of pulmonary valve abnormality/non-critical pulmonary stenosis (8/11 (72.7%)) and hypoplastic left heart syndrome/critical aortic stenosis (5/9 (55.6%)).

Conclusions: The clinical utility of follow-up FE is associated with the type of CHD diagnosed. Follow-up FE led to changes in management in several types of CHD, most commonly in cases with an initial diagnosis of right and left outflow obstructive lesions and balanced AVC defect. When developing programmatic protocols for the frequency of FE assessments, the type of CHD should be a major determinant, but additional studies are required to reach a consensus on how often serial FE should be performed for each type of CHD. © 2023 International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Keywords: congenital heart disease; fetal echocardiography; repeat; serial.

MeSH terms

  • Aortic Coarctation*
  • Echocardiography / methods
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / complications
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / diagnostic imaging
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / therapy
  • Heart Septal Defects, Ventricular*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary Valve Stenosis*
  • Retrospective Studies

Supplementary concepts

  • Atrioventricular Septal Defect