In some cases, heart defects can be corrected or controlled before a baby is even born. These fetal interventions can, at times, improve the chances for survival for a baby with a congenital heart defect or reduce the number of surgeries that child may need once born.
A fetal echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) will be performed to see if fetal heart development appears to be normal. If structural problems are identified with the heart, the medical care team will work with the family to determine treatment options and likely outcomes.
Currently, in most cases that are severe enough to require treatment, an interventional procedure (using thin tubes called catheters) or surgery will be performed immediately or soon after the baby is born, to correct the congenital heart defect or decrease its severity. Depending on the type of congenital heart disease, medications may also be administered to the mother and/or fetus to control the heart condition.
In special cases, the medical care team may recommend that an interventional procedure be performed to repair the fetus’ heart in utero (in the womb). These procedures offer the potential of allowing the fetal heart to recover and grow along a more normal developmental path.
Fetal interventional cardiology is still an emerging area of medicine. Only a few types of congenital defects are currently treated while the baby is still in the womb. If you or a loved one underwent a fetal echocardiogram that identified a fetal heart defect, ask your cardiologist if fetal interventional options might exist.