As the rate of obesity continues to increase worldwide (last reported by the CDC as 42.4% as of 2017–2018), it has become even more evident that there is a great need to improve fetal cardiac visualization in obese pregnant women. Less than 50% of morbidly obese women have successful fetal 4-chamber and outflow tract visualization, compared to almost 90% of nonobese women.
Obese women are also significantly more likely than normal-weight women to have children with a congenital heart disease, with an even higher risk in morbidly obese women, who give birth to children who have higher odds of having atrial septal defects, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, aortic stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, and tetralogy of Fallot.
And when obese pregnant women have reduced rates of complete anatomic surveys, lower detection rates, and increased risk of fetal anomalies due to less than perfect anatomy visualization, how do we improve the fetal cardiac visualization?
A team of researchers from Eastern Virginia Medical School looked into whether ultrasound (US) imaging in early gestation could help.
Amara Majeed, MD; Alfred Abuhamad, MD; Letty Romary, MD; and Elena Sinkovskaya, MD, PhD, performed a study in which all study participants (obese pregnant women) with a gestational age of 13 weeks to 15 weeks 6 days, underwent an US exam using a transvaginal or transabdominal approach and color Doppler US for fetal cardiac screening, which they defined as complete when all components of the 4-chamber, right ventricular outflow tract, left ventricular outflow tract, and 3-vessel views were clearly visualized. The participants also underwent a traditional transabdominal examination at 20 to 22 weeks, and if that exam was incomplete, underwent another 2 to 4 weeks later.
What they found was that the addition of early-gestation US to the 20- to 22-week US exam of obese pregnant women substantially improved the visualization of fetal cardiac anatomy. And for the women with a BMI of greater than 40 kg/m2, the cardiac screening completion rate was even higher (significantly so) for the early-gestation exam plus a traditional exam (90%) than for the traditional exam plus the second traditional exam (72.7%).
Adding an ultrasound exam at a gestation age of 13 weeks to 15 weeks 6 days substantially improved the visualization of fetal cardiac anatomy, particularly for the women with a BMI of greater than 40 kg/m2. Having complete or more complete anatomy screening can enable an earlier, accurate diagnosis.
To read more about this study, download the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine article, “Can Ultrasound in Early Gestation Improve Visualization of Fetal Cardiac Structures in Obese Pregnant Women?”. Members of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine can access it for free. Join today!
If you have any questions about the study, please ask in the comments; the authors of the article will be happy to respond.