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Congenital Heart Defects - Exams and Tests

Testing a baby for congenital heart defects can be done while a woman is pregnant or after a baby's birth. Children and adults who have a heart defect need regular checkups throughout their lives.

Tests during pregnancy

A fetal echocardiogram, which can be done as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, is the best test before a baby's birth. The test uses sound waves to take pictures of the baby's heart. The fetal echocardiogram may be done if:

  • The mother or father has a congenital heart defect.
  • During her pregnancy the mother has been exposed to certain chemicals.
  • During her pregnancy the mother has taken medicines that may increase the risk that her baby (fetus) will develop heart defects.
  • Other exams or tests show signs that a baby may have a problem related to the heart's structure.

Tests after your baby is born

Many congenital heart defects are found in the first month after a baby is born. Your doctor may ask about the baby's symptoms, appetite, and other habits. He or she may do other tests to find a heart problem, such as:

More tests may be needed, depending on the symptoms and type of defect. These may include:

  • Chest X-ray, to check the size and blood vessels of the heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG), to check for irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that may be related to a congenital heart defect.
  • Blood tests, to check for anemia, polycythemia, or levels of certain chemicals in the blood.
  • Oximetry, to see whether oxygen-poor blood is being pumped to the body. The amount of oxygen in the blood can also be measured by an arterial blood gas (ABG) or a transcutaneous monitor (in infants).
  • CT scan or MRI of the heart and major blood vessels, to view abnormal heart structures and/or blood vessels. During these tests, your child will probably be given medicine to make him or her relax and sleep.

Tests for children and adults

Children, teens, and adults with congenital heart defects need regular checkups. They might have tests to check the health of the heart and to check for complications.

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