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Pediatr Cardiol. 2004 May-Jun;25(3):234-51.

Cardiac arrhythmias in the human fetus.

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  • 1Clinical Pediatrics in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, USA.


Fetal cardiac arrhythmias have been recognized with increasing frequency during the past several years. Most fetal arrythmias are intermittent extrasystoles, often presenting as irregular pauses of rhythm. These are significant only when they occur with appropriate timing to initiate sustained tachycardia, mediated by anatomic bypass pathways. The most common important fetal arrhythmias are: 1) supraventricular tachycardias, and 2) severe bradyarrhythmias, associated with complete heart block. Symptomatic fetal tachycardias are usually supraventricular in origin, and may be associated with the developmet of hydrops fetalis. These patients may respond to antiarrhythmic drug therapy, administered via maternal ingestion or via direct fetal injection. Such therapy should be offered with careful fetal and maternal monitoring, and must be based on a logical, sequential analysis of the electrical mechanism underlying the arrhythmia, and an appreciation of the pharmacology and pharmacokinetics of the maternal, placental fetal system. Bradycardia from complete heart block may either be associated with complex congential heart malformations involving the atrioventricular junction of the heart, or may present in fetuses with normal cardiac structure, in mothers with autoimmune conditions associated with high titres of anti-SS-A or anti-SS-B antibody, which cross the placenta to cause immune-related inflammatory damage to the fetal atroventricular node. This paper reviews experience with the analysis of fetal caridac rhythm, a detailed discussion of the pathophysiology of arrhythmias and their effect on the fetal circulatory system, and offers a logical framework for the construction of treatment algorithms for fetuses at risk for circulatory compromise from fetal arrhythmias.

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