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Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Nov;22(5):470-8.

Structural and functional cardiac abnormalities identified prior to 16 weeks' gestation in fetuses with increased nuchal translucency.

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Fetal Medicine and Cardiology Unit, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, São Paulo University Medical School, Brazil.



To determine the accuracy and practicality of fetal echocardiography in the identification of structural and functional cardiac abnormalities prior to 16 weeks' gestation in fetuses with increased nuchal translucency thickness (NT).


Between January 1996 and June 2002 early fetal echocardiography using the transvaginal route was performed at 12-16 weeks' gestation on 275 fetuses with increased NT. The abnormal cardiac findings were classified as either structural (congenital heart defects) or functional, defined as transient phenomena which might later disappear, such as isolated tricuspid regurgitation and an enlarged ascending aorta. The abnormal findings were related to pregnancy outcome, including autopsy results, karyotyping results, and late fetal and neonatal echocardiography.


Cardiac abnormalities were present in 61 fetuses overall (22.2%); including structural cardiac defects in 37 fetuses (13.5%) and functional abnormalities in 24 fetuses (8.7%). Structural cardiac abnormalities were associated with abnormal karyotype in 24 fetuses and normal karyotype in 13 fetuses. Of the 24 fetuses with functional cardiac abnormalities, 2 (8.3%) had isolated tricuspid regurgitation and 22 (91.7%) had enlarged ascending aorta. Abnormal karyotype was present in this group in 4 cases (16.7%).


Increased NT can be used to define a high-risk group that should receive specialized early fetal echocardiography. This is a reliable technique with great potential for the diagnosis of both structural and functional cardiac abnormalities.

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