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Early heart scans could be key to miscarriage prevention

Tuesday 3rd October 2017
Scanning foetuses hearts could help to prevent as many as one in ten miscarriages, new research suggests. Image: AlexRaths via iStock
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Carrying out foetal heart scans at key stages of development may help to lower the risk of a miscarriage, according to a new study.

Research carried out by doctors based at the University of Leeds led to the discovery that examining the heart at between 95 and 143 days' gestation can show signs that a foetus is not developing properly, meaning some form of intervention may be needed.

Scientists took images of 23 foetal hearts at this stage using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and 3D scanning technology and found that the biggest changes in heart development occurred at around 124 days' gestation. At this point, a four-stage development takes place that is essential to a baby's survival outside of the womb.

Typically, doctors only monitor a baby's heart from 20 weeks' (140 days) gestation, but the new study suggests that earlier scanning could be instrumental in revealing miscarriage risk or abnormalities in the development of the heart.

As a result, doctors will be able to intervene and decide on the best course of action for both mother and baby in order to give the infant the best possible chance of survival outside of the womb.

Lead author of the study Dr Eleftheria Pervolaraki commented: "We have identified a critical time of development of the human heart in pregnancy. We have used a technique developed to give us higher details than ever before.

"When all the fibres, muscles and cells achieve the formation needed to see in an adult heart, when they all do that you have a fully-formed organ free of risk. If it doesn't reach that state, it leads to an additional risk of miscarriage."

Currently, one in ten miscarriages is attributed to the failure of the heart to develop properly, so earlier heart imaging could help to save a significant number of infants each year.

Written by Mathew Horton

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