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What is the implication of irregular heart beats in the unborn baby?

Wednesday, 28 December 2005
Answered by: Dr. Ashok Khurana
Director, Genitourinary and Vascular Ultrasound,
The Ultrasound Lab,
New Delhi
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Q. I am 29 weeks and 5 days pregnant. When I went for my regular checkup today, the doctor said that the baby's heart beat is irregular. Even, I could hear it. For 10 to 12 seconds, it is normal and then there is a deterioration for about 4 to 5 seconds, and then again it becomes normal. It follows this cycle. The doctor said that the baby's brain is not fully matured. The heart is beating by itself and is not beating as per signals sent by the brain. The blood circulation too might not be proper. Is this a normal condition? He said that we can do an ultrasound after 2 weeks and find out if there is any problem. It might become normal by that time also. Is this a serious irregularity? Does this mean that the baby's brain will remain immature or will it become normal within some weeks? Is there any specific food that would help the baby's brain grow well? I am a vegetarian. So, is there any fruit or vegetable that would help this?

A.  An irregular heart beat in the unborn baby is usually a transient finding that corrects itself either before birth, or shortly thereafter, and has no long term implications for the mental and physical well being of the child. Occasionally the irregularity may convert itself to a rapid heart rate of more than 200 beats per minute and then may be treated by administering medication to the mother. This medication reaches the baby through the placenta and helps the heart rate to correct itself. Sometimes, the irregular heart rate may be consequent to the mother suffering from a disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. This would need appropriate evaluation with blood tests on the mother and treatment of the mother. Very rarely the irregular heart beat is consequent to a structural defect of the heart of the unborn child. This would need evaluation with a detailed ultrasound scan including a special ultrasound scan called fetal echocardiography. If such a defect is found it would be wise to carry out a chromosomal analysis of the baby as well by amniocentesis or cordocentesis as many of the babies with these structural heart defects have extra chromosomes referred to as Trisomy 13, 18 21 or a deletion defect of chromosome 22. These chromosomal conditions have a grave outcome. Very, very occasionally the heart rate is irregular because of a poor placental function. This can be excluded or confirmed by an ultrasound Doppler examination. In essence, therefore, what is needed is an ultrasound scan which includes an anomalies scan, a fetal echocardiography and a Doppler study. If these are clear, there vis no cause for concern. The irregular heart rate by itself does not harm the brain formation, development or maturation. There is no specific food that makes the babies brain grow well.

A.  An irregular heart beat in the unborn baby is usually a transient finding that corrects itself either before birth, or shortly thereafter, and has no long term implications for the mental and physical well being of the child. Occasionally the irregularity may convert itself to a rapid heart rate of more than 200 beats per minute and then may be treated by administering medication to the mother. This medication reaches the baby through the placenta and helps the heart rate to correct itself. Sometimes, the irregular heart rate may be consequent to the mother suffering from a disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. This would need appropriate evaluation with blood tests on the mother and treatment of the mother. Very rarely the irregular heart beat is consequent to a structural defect of the heart of the unborn child. This would need evaluation with a detailed ultrasound scan including a special ultrasound scan called fetal echocardiography. If such a defect is found it would be wise to carry out a chromosomal analysis of the baby as well by amniocentesis or cordocentesis as many of the babies with these structural heart defects have extra chromosomes referred to as Trisomy 13, 18 21 or a deletion defect of chromosome 22. These chromosomal conditions have a grave outcome. Very, very occasionally the heart rate is irregular because of a poor placental function. This can be excluded or confirmed by an ultrasound Doppler examination. In essence, therefore, what is needed is an ultrasound scan which includes an anomalies scan, a fetal echocardiography and a Doppler study. If these are clear, there vis no cause for concern. The irregular heart rate by itself does not harm the brain formation, development or maturation. There is no specific food that makes the babies brain grow well.

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