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Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Jul;28(1):8-14.

The examiner's ultrasound experience has a significant impact on the detection rate of congenital heart defects at the second-trimester fetal examination.

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National Center for Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, St Olavs Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway.



To determine whether training and experience in performing ultrasound examinations are factors that influence the prenatal detection of congenital heart defects (CHDs) in a non-selected population, in order to evaluate and improve the current training program.


All pregnant women who received a routine second-trimester ultrasound scan by a sonographer/midwife and delivered at our hospital between February 1991 and December 2001 were registered prospectively. Less experienced sonographer/midwives who had performed between 200 and 2000 routine examinations were compared with experienced sonographer/midwives who had carried out more than 2000 examinations. During the first 5 years of the study the heart structures obtained were registered in detail.


Of 29,035 fetuses, 35/82 (43%) major CHDs were prenatally detected at the routine examination. The experienced sonographer/midwives obtained both the four-chamber view and the great arteries in 75%; the figure for the less experienced sonographer/midwives was 36% (P < 0.001). The differences in detecting major heart defects were 22/42 (52%) and 13/40 (32.5%), isolated CHDs 8/18 (44%) and 6/22 (27%) and CHDs with associated malformations 14/24 (58%) and 7/18 (39%), respectively. In both groups some CHDs with an abnormal four-chamber view were missed, although the experienced sonographer/midwives recognized significantly more of the abnormal views than did the less experienced sonographer/midwives (P = 0.002).


Experience has a significant impact on the examination of the fetal heart and the prenatal detection rate of major CHDs. To avoid a relatively long learning curve, ultrasound education needs to intensify the teaching of the basic four-chamber view. The great arteries should be included after additional training. Those basic views of the fetal heart must be mastered before new views and advanced technology are added to the fetal heart examination.

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