OBJECTIVES: To describe the normal cardiac morphology as seen by transvaginal ultrasound imaging in the first trimester fetus and to compare it with the morphology of the heart as seen by microdissection at the same gestational age. DESIGN: In 53 mothers undergoing early sonography, the fetal heart was examined and the images recorded. The gestational age range was 5-12 weeks of gestation, which represents 21 to 70 days after conception. Images were analysed frame by frame and compared with the anatomy of embryos and fetuses at the same gestational ages. RESULTS: After the 9th week of gestation, four cardiac chambers, the aortic origin, and the pulmonary artery could be identified on cross sectional echocardiography in conjunction with colour flow Doppler. At 9 weeks, the apex pointed anteriorly and the right ventricle and pulmonary artery lay to the right of the midline. By the 11th week of gestation, the apex pointed to the left and the pulmonary artery lay to the left of the midline as in the older fetus. Between 9 and 12 weeks' gestation the aorta was larger than the pulmonary artery. These findings were confirmed in the microdissected hearts. CONCLUSIONS: The current quality of ultrasound images obtained using transvaginal transducers in the first trimester fetus allows the study of fetal cardiac anatomy. Some of the later developmental changes can be demonstrated. As technology improves further the details of earlier cardiac morphogenesis may also become visible.
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