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Fetal Cardiac Dysfunction

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Fetal Cardiac Dysfunction


Fetal cardiac dysfunction is the name for a number of heart problems in a growing fetus. It happens when the heart is pumping weakly or out of sync.. This makes it hard for the heart to move blood through the body as it should. It can cause danger to the baby.

Blood Flow Through the Heart.

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Fetal cardiac dysfunction may be caused by:

  • 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 fetal cardiac dysfunction are:

  • Having other family members who had heart problems at birth
  • Chromosome problems in the fetus
  • Prior pregnancy with heart problems or miscarriage
  • Health problems during pregnancy, such as:
    • Having a virus, such as rubella
    • Having diabetes
    • Drinking alcohol or using drugs
    • Smoking
    • 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


Fetal cardiac dysfunction 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.


Fetal cardiac dysfunction sometimes gets better on its own. 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


People who are pregnant should not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs. Regular prenatal care is also important.





  • Congenital heart defects. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/congenital-heart-defects.
  • Congenital heart defects. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/if-heart-defect.html.
  • Fetal monitoring during labor. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/fetal-monitoring-during-labor.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

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.