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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.

A stress test (exercise electrocardiogram) can be done to check if a child or an adult with a heart defect needs exercise restrictions or to see if exercise performance is changing over time. This test might be done before a child starts school or before a teen or adult starts a new exercise program.

Adults who have congenital heart defects need routine checkups. Be sure you have a primary care physician. You might also need to see your cardiologist regularly, such as once a year.

Early detection

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant and you or your partner has a congenital heart defect, it's best to plan ahead for a pregnancy. Genetic counseling can help you find out your risk of passing a heart defect to your child.

If you are already pregnant and you or your partner has a family history of congenital heart defects, a fetal echocardiogram or genetic testing may be done during pregnancy.

A baby may be checked for congenital heart defects if:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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