Foetal MRI can detect abnormal extracardiac development

Thursday, 23 December, 2021

Foetal MRI can detect abnormal extracardiac development

Newborn babies with heart defects frequently exhibit abnormal extracardiac development of the brain or other organs as well. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and University Hospital Vienna have now demonstrated the importance of foetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the early diagnosis of such congenital abnormalities, with their results published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Foetal MRI can be used to obtain high-resolution images of the foetal organs, irrespective of the mother’s body weight or the amount of amniotic fluid present. This prenatal imaging allows abnormalities to be identified and further treatment steps to be initiated at an early stage. A particular strength of foetal MRI is accurate assessment of structural brain abnormalities that are sometimes difficult to detect using ultrasound.

Heart defects are among the most common congenital abnormalities and affect almost 1% of all newborns. Early and comprehensive evaluation of foetuses with sonographically diagnosed heart defects using foetal MRI as well as other techniques is important for the care of the child as well as the diagnosis of possible further abnormalities, both before and after birth — yet according to study leader Gregor Dovjak, from MedUni Vienna, foetal MRI is not universally used for prenatal assessment of foetuses with cardiac defects.

Dovjak and his team looked at 442 foetuses with heart defects between the 17th and 38th week of gestation. Almost 57% of these foetuses also had at least one other abnormality on the MRI, and approximately a quarter had structural brain abnormalities. The severity of the heart defect has no influence on the rate of extracardiac abnormalities in other organs.

The researchers thus concluded that foetal MRI is a useful complement to ultrasound for the assessment of extracardiac anomalies in foetuses with congenital heart disease.

Image credit: © Kaulitzki

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