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 or pumping out of sync.

The heart is not able to move blood through the body. This can cause danger to the baby.

Blood Flow Through the Heart

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Causes may be:

  • 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 this problem are:

  • Having other family members 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. Problems may be:

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


This health problem 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:

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


This problem may get better on its own in some children. 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


Women should not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs while pregnant. Regular prenatal care is also important.


American Heart Association
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Congenital heart defects. American Heart Association website. Available at:
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Accessed November 4, 2020.
Congenital heart defects. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/if-heart-defect.html?ref=search. Accessed November 4, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD

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