A number of publications have reported an association between the finding of hyperechoic fetal bowel on prenatal sonogram and disorders such as aneuploidy and cystic fibrosis. To define more precisely the significance of this finding, we systematically reviewed the published material on the subject. Based on a total of 357 reported cases, we documented a high prevalence of cystic fibrosis (25.6 per cent) and chromosome abnormality (12.4 per cent) associated with increased bowel echogenicity in the fetus. High rates of intrauterine growth retardation (14.9 per cent), fetal demise (9.0 per cent), and prematurity (15.3 per cent) were also found. The data were obtained from a population at high a priori risk for aneuploidy and included fetuses at 1 in 4 risk for cystic fibrosis reported in two studies. This increased the bias towards an adverse outcome. The rate of complications when a hyperechoic abdomen is noted in a low-risk fetal population has so far not been delineated. Although the high frequency of complications found is of concern and warrants investigation, extrapolation of these risk figures to a fetal population at low a priori risk may not be appropriate.