What Is a First-Trimester Fetal Echo, and Why Would I Need One?

During the first trimester, your growing fetus takes shape fairly quickly, transforming from a mass of cells into a small human about 2.5 inches long. By week 6, your baby’s heart forms and begins to beat — though it’s inconceivably small, making detection of a problem very difficult. 

At High-Risk Pregnancy Doctors, our team offer advanced technology that allows us to evaluate your tiny baby’s heart health as early as weeks 11-14 with first-trimester fetal echocardiography (echo). An echo is a specialized form of ultrasound used to examine the heart. This type of testing is unique, and we’re one of the few practices that have the equipment and expertise necessary to conduct a first-trimester echo. 

What is a fetal echo?

A fetal echo is a noninvasive test in which we use ultrasound to detect any heart-health issues in your unborn child. The ultrasound delivers harmless sound waves into your baby, and the echoes of these waves form images, which allow us to take a closer look at your child’s organs.

Under normal circumstances, pregnant women typically undergo an ultrasound between weeks 18 and 20, which allows them to learn the sex of their baby and allows us to ensure that everything is progressing smoothly. When it comes to your unborn child’s heart, this type of ultrasound simply ensures that the four chambers are fully formed and functioning properly.

With a first-trimester fetal echo, we take a closer look at the function and form of the heart, and we’re able to do that even in the earlier weeks of your pregnancy. To accomplish this, High-Risk Pregnancy Doctors has invested in Philips high-performance echocardiogram technology, which allows for fine-elevation focusing capability and exceptional detail to evaluate the function of the heart — how it’s formed, how it beats, and how blood flows through the four chambers. 

But this advanced equipment is only part of the equation. Our team features specially trained sonographers as well as doctors who have fetal echo certification so that they can interpret the findings.

Why would I need a first-trimester fetal echo?

At High-Risk Pregnancy Doctors, we believe that the earlier we know about a problem, the better we're able to manage the condition and prepare for any necessary intervention. For example, some babies born with a heart condition require urgent interventions during the first few hours after birth, and more than 50% require major surgery during their first year of life.

A first-trimester fetal echo is advisable if you have any risk factors that increase your chances of having a baby with heart problems. Risk factors could include already having a child with a congenital heart defect or having a congenital heart defect yourself. 

At High-Risk Pregnancy Doctors, we carry out a first-trimester fetal echo on all of our patients to check for congenital heart defects and other suspected abnormalities. More specifically, we look for:

Your baby’s heart develops at a very early stage of your pregnancy, on day 21, and forms completely by the ninth week of gestation. Past 11-12 weeks, it’s possible for us to see the cardiac axis, outflow tracts, three-vessel trachea view, and four-chamber view.

What does a first-trimester fetal echo involve?

There are two ways we perform a first-trimester fetal echo. In the first, we turn to a transabdominal approach, which is much the same as a regular ultrasound, and it’s the method we use most often. A transabdominal echo provides us with comprehensive information and allows us to identify most of your baby’s anatomical cardiac structures. 

An alternative is a transvaginal first-trimester fetal echo, in which we perform the ultrasound through your vaginal walls.

High-Risk Pregnancy Doctors have the technology, special protocols, and staff with specialized to perform and interpret first-trimester fetal echos. For the best care for your high-risk pregnancy, call our office in Frisco, Texas at (972) 808-6495, or request an appointment online.

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