Research finds that a promising technology may enable doctors to diagnose and possibly treat in utero a common cause of stillbirth and sudden death in infants. The research was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
The study is the first to document the electrophysiological characteristics of fetal long QT syndrome and to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of the magnetic EKG, or magnetocardiogram, in a sizable population of at-risk fetuses."Until now, physicians were unable to diagnose a serious heart condition known as long QT syndrome until after birth," said Ronald T. Wakai, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and a professor of medical physics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
"Our study shows that you can diagnose the condition in utero and identify which fetuses are most likely to have life-threatening arrhythmia. We also showed that once detected the arrhythmia can be effectively treated in utero."Long QT syndrome is present in about one in every 2,000 births and accounts for about 10 percent of sudden infant deaths and unexplained stillbirths, Wakai said. It's also a leading cause of sudden death in children and young adults. Long QT predisposes the heart to develop a potentially lethal heart rhythm, but fetuses can be successfully treated if the rhythm is identified. Using the magnetic EKG, the researchers diagnosed long QT in the womb with 89 percent accuracy.