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Definition

Fetal cardiac dysfunction refers to a number of heart problems in a growing fetus. For example, the heart can be:

  • Pumping weakly
  • Pumping irregularly

The heart is not adequately able to move blood through the fetus’ body. This can cause distress in the fetus. The condition can range from mild to severe.

Blood Flow Through the Heart


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Causes

Cardiac dysfunction may be due to:

  • Genetic diseases that affect the heart
  • Problems with structures of the heart
  • Infections
  • Exposure to certain substances such as drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and some medications
Risk Factors

General risk factors for heart problems include:

  • Family history of congenital heart defect
  • Certain chromosomal disorders in the child
  • Previous pregnancy with fetal heart abnormalities or miscarriage
  • Conditions during pregnancy, such as:
    • Being infected with a virus such as rubella
    • Having poorly controlled diabetes
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Taking certain medicines such as isotretinoin for acne
    • Poor blood supply to the fetus
Symptoms

The symptoms depend on the type of defect. The doctor will monitor your baby’s growth and heart rate during the pregnancy. During fetal monitoring, the doctor may detect an abnormal heartbeat, such as:

During imaging tests, the doctor may also detect:

  • Abnormal heart structure
  • Blood flow problems
Diagnosis

Fetal cardiac dysfunction can be detected using special tests during pregnancy.

Images may be taken of your abdomen. This can be done with:

Your fetus' fluids may be tested. This can be done with amniocentesis.

Treatment

Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby. During your pregnancy, you will need to be examined by specialists, such as:

  • Perinatologist or maternal-fetal medicine specialist—a doctor who specializes in the treatment of high-risk pregnancies
  • Pediatric cardiologist—a doctor who specializes in heart conditions in children

There are many categories of this condition. Treatment depends on the type of defect. In certain cases, the problem can resolve on its own.

In other cases, the condition may be treated during the pregnancy. For example, surgery may be done to repair abnormal structures while the baby is in the uterus.

Your baby may need medicine or surgery after birth. Examples of surgeries that may be done include:

  • Catheterization—a tube is inserted through the veins and into the heart for testing or a procedure
  • Pacemaker insertion—a small, battery-operated device is inserted into the heart to maintain a normal heartbeat
Prevention

Make sure you receive good prenatal care:

  • Visit your doctor regularly. Your doctor will monitor your health and the health of your baby. Certain tests may be able to detect a heart defect in a growing fetus.
  • Have a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy food and take prenatal vitamins.
  • Do not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs. This is especially important if you are pregnant.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cardiovascular Society
http://www.ccs.ca

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
http://ww2.heartandstroke.ca

References:

Congenital heart defects. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/Congenital-Heart-Defects_UCM_001090_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Congenital heart defects. Nemours' Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/congenital_heart_defects.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Evaluation and diagnosis. Children’s Hospital Boston website. Available at: http://childrenshospital.org/clinicalservices/Site540/mainpageS540P18.html. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Fetal echocardiography/your unborn baby's heart. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/SymptomsDiagnosisofCongenitalHeartDefects/Fetal-Echocardiography-Your-Unborn-Babys-Heart_UCM_315640_Article.jsp. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Special tests for monitoring fetal health. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq098.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130719T0549108390. Accessed July 19, 2013.



Last reviewed July 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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