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Prenat Diagn. 2009 Aug;29(8):739-48. doi: 10.1002/pd.2281.

The nuchal translucency and the fetal heart: a literature review.

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  • 1Department of Pediatric Cardiology of the Emma Children's Hospital, Academic Medical Centre, Meibergdreef 9, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In this overview the current knowledge of the relationship between an increased nuchal translucency (NT) measurement and fetal heart structure and function in chromosomally normal fetuses is reviewed. Relevant pathophysiological theories behind the increased NT are discussed. Fetuses with an increased NT have an increased risk for congenital heart disease (CHD) with no particular bias for one form of CHD over another. This risk increases with increasing NT measurement. Although the NT measurement is only a modestly effective screening tool for all CHD when used alone, it may indeed be effective in identifying specific CHD "likely to benefit" from prenatal diagnosis. The combination of an increased NT, tricuspid regurgitation and an abnormal ductus venosus (DV) Doppler flow profile, is a strong marker for CHD. A fetal echocardiogram should be performed at 20 weeks' gestation in fetuses with an NT > or = 95th percentile but < 99th percentile. When the NT measurement is > or = 99th percentile, or when tricuspid regurgitation and/or an abnormal DV flow pattern is found along with the increased NT, an earlier echocardiogram is indicated, followed by a repeat scan at around 20 weeks' gestation. The resultant increased demand for early fetal echocardiography and sonographers with this special expertise needs to be planned and provided for.

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