Heart Irregularities in Fetus

At 33 weeks, my fetus was diagnosed with arrhythmia, although ultrasound indicated that everything was normal. The perinatologist recommended weekly non-stress tests. Is it true that fetal arrhythmia is not uncommon and usually disappears after the birth?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

Fetal heart irregularities (or extra sounds) are most always benign. They often resolve after birth. But having said that, I must add that any irregularity in the fetal heart must be investigated further. Some rhythms are indicative of heart malformation and some of these can be treated in utero with medications given to the mother or injected into the baby.

When a baby in the third trimester has an irregular heart rhythm, it is a good idea to do a level-two ultrasound to screen for malformations or signs of other conditions which may indicate the reason for such a rhythm. It is important to check fetal growth parameters to rule out growth restriction.

An echocardiogram of the fetal heart may be requested. This is a specialized study of the fetal heart and its rhythm. A cardiologist can determine if this rhythm is associated with any malformation or condition.

A doppler-flow study of the placental perfusion and the vessels may be ordered to detect any possible maternal-fetal circulatory problem.

If your baby is an appropriate size for dates, and ultrasound has not demonstrated any abnormalities, there is a good chance that this is a benign condition. In my practice, if the irregular rhythm persists, we usually have a pediatrician present during birth.

We don't really know why some babies have irregular rhythms, but in some cases, it is a valve problem, which resolves with the change from fetal to newborn circulation.

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