Fetal Cardiac Dysfunction



Fetal cardiac dysfunction is the name for a number of heart problems in a growing fetus. The heart can be:

  • Pumping weakly
  • Pumping out of sync

The heart isn’t able to move blood through the body. This can cause danger to the baby.

Blood Flow Through the Heart
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It may be due to:

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

Risk Factors

Your risk is higher if you have:

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



The symptoms depend on the type of defect. The doctor will check your baby’s growth during pregnancy. Your baby’s heart will also be tested to check for:

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


This health problem can be found using special tests before your child is born.

Pictures may be taken of your belly. This can be done with:

  • Ultrasound
  • echocardiogram
  • MRI scan

During these tests, the doctor may also find:

  • Problems with your baby's heart structure
  • Blood flow problems

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



Talk with the doctor about the best plan for your baby. During your pregnancy, you will need to be checked by a doctor who:

  • High-risk pregnancies
  • Heart problems in children

There are many types of this health problem. The plan for your baby depends on the type of defect. In certain cases, the problem can get better on its own.

In other cases, the health problem may be treated during pregnancy. Surgery may be done while the baby is in the womb.

Your baby may need medicine or 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


To help lower your chance having a baby with heart problems:

  • Visit your doctor often. Your doctor will check your health and the health of your baby. Certain tests may be able to find a heart problems in a growing baby.
  • Follow healthy habits. Eat healthy food and take prenatal vitamins.
  • Do not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs. This is very important if you are pregnant.

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.


American Heart Association http://www.heart.org 

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.healthychildren.org 


Canadian Cardiovascular Society http://www.ccs.ca 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca 


Congenital heart defects. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/Congenital-Heart-Defects%5FUCM%5F001090%5FSubHomePage.jsp. Accessed June 29, 2018.

Congenital heart defects. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/congenital%5Fheart%5Fdefects.html. Updated October 2017. Accessed June 29, 2018.

Fetal echocardiography/Your unborn baby's heart. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/SymptomsDiagnosisofCongenitalHeartDefects/Fetal-Echocardiography-Your-Unborn-Babys-Heart%5FUCM%5F315640%5FArticle.jsp. Updated October 6, 2016. Accessed June 29, 2018.

Special tests for monitoring fetal health. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq098.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130719T0549108390. Updated November 2013. Accessed June 29, 2018.