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Today, with the advance in technology, most congenital (present at birth) heart defects can be detected before birth using a fetal echocardiogram or fetal echo. Although it can be overwhelming for a family to receive the news that the baby’s heart is less than perfect, prenatal diagnosis allows valuable time to consider options, make informed choices and plan carefully for the future. As a result, we can provide the early treatments best designed to produce successful outcomes. This may improve the chance of survival after delivery particularly for babies with serious heart defects.

Our fetal cardiologist Dr. Alhadheri has a long experience and personally scans each patient and dedicates time to counsel the family in a comfortable setting and discusses the findings and answer questions. Dr. Alhadheri can also help the family decide if the cardiac findings would suggest that other diagnostic studies, such as amniocentesis, or further follow-up study are indicated.

Fetal echocardiography or fetal echo is a safe, non-invasive procedure that uses ultrasound waves without radiation exposure. It is performed during the second trimester of pregnancy when the woman is about 16 – 22 weeks pregnant. The study allows us to assess the structure, function, and heart rhythm of the fetal heart.

During the test, a small probe (transducer), which looks like a microphone, is placed on the mother’s abdomen. The probe is moved in different directions to capture the fetal heart from different angles. The probe sends out sound waves, which bounce off the baby’s heart and create a picture of the fetal heart on a computer screen. The study may take 20 to 45 minutes to perform.

If a heart problem is identified, Dr. Alhadheri works with the family and obstetrician to develop a plan of care, including options for delivery. When appropriate, we also facilitate a consultation with a cardiac surgeon to discuss surgical options and outcomes. We also coordinate the care with other services including Neonatal ICU and Pediatric ICU Teams, as needed.


The test may be necessary for:

  • A parent, sibling or other family members had a congenital (present at birth) heart defect (CHD) or heart disease
  • A routine pregnancy ultrasound detected an abnormal heart defect or heart rhythm in the unborn baby
  • Abnormality of another major organ system in the fetus
  • The mother has certain medical conditions: Insulin-dependent diabetes, phenylketonuria and connective tissue disorder (e.g. lupus, Sjogren’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • The mother has an oral infection (rubella, Parvovirus) during pregnancy
  • The mother abused drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
  • The mother has been exposed to drugs that can damage the baby’s developing heart (such as certain anti-seizure medications and acne medications)
  • An amniocentesis revealed a chromosome disorder (e.g. Trisomy 21 “Down syndrome”, Trisomy 13 and 18) or other genetic disorder
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Complex twin gestation

If you want to learn more about the care for infants with Congenital Heart Disease, please click here.