Routine fetal cardiac screening: what are we doing and what should we do?



In many countries, ultrasound examination is used in the second trimester to look for congenital malformations as part of routine prenatal care. While tertiary centres scanning high-risk pregnancies have reported a high degree of accuracy in the detection of congenital heart disease, many studies have shown that cardiac abnormalities are commonly overlooked during routine obstetric evaluation and there still remains a huge variation between centres. The majority of babies with congenital heart disease are born to mothers with no identifiable high-risk factors and so will not be detected unless there is widespread screening of the low-risk population. It is feasible to achieve widespread screening for fetal congenital heart disease in low-risk groups, but this does need commitment and effort from those performing the scans and those teaching them how to examine the heart. Staff performing routine obstetric ultrasound scans should learn a simple technique for examining the fetal heart and to use this in all patients. Links to a tertiary centre can provide support for checking scans of concern as well as for providing training and for obtaining feedback. In addition, an audit system needs to be established in each centre to trace false-positive and false-negative cases as well as to confirm true positives and true negatives. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.