Fetal Cardiac Dysfunction



Fetal cardiac dysfunction may be caused by:

  • Problems with the genes of the heart
  • Problems with structures of the heart
  • Infections
  • Drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and some medicines

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of fetal cardiac dysfunction are:

  • Having other family members who had heart problems at birth
  • Chromosome problems in the fetus
  • Prior pregnancy with heart problems or miscarriage
  • Health problems during pregnancy, such as:
    • Having a virus, such as rubella
    • Having diabetes
    • Drinking alcohol or using drugs
    • Smoking
    • Taking certain medicines
    • Not enough blood getting to the baby



The symptoms depend on the type of defect. Problems may be:

  • Out of sync, extra, or missed heartbeats
  • Heart beats too fast
  • Heart beats too slowly


Fetal cardiac dysfunction can be found using special tests before a child is born.

Pictures may be taken of the mother's belly. This can be done with:

  • Ultrasound
  • Echocardiogram
  • MRI scan

The baby’s fluids may be tested. This can be done with amniocentesis.



Fetal cardiac dysfunction sometimes gets better on its own. In others, treatment will be needed based on the type of defect.

Surgery may be done to correct the problem while the baby is still in the womb. A baby may also have surgery after birth, such as:

  • Catheterization—a tube is inserted through the veins and into the heart for testing or a procedure
  • Pacemaker insertion—a small, battery-operated device is inserted into the heart to help it keep a normal heartbeat


People who are pregnant should not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs. Regular prenatal care is also important.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.