n Cardiovascular Journal of Africa - Diagnosing cardiac disease during pregnancy : imaging modalities : review articles

Volume 27, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1995-1892
  • E-ISSN: 1680-0745



Pregnant women with known or suspected cardiovascular disease (CVD) often require cardiovascular imaging during pregnancy. The accepted maximum limit of ionising radiation exposure to the foetus during pregnancy is a cumulative dose of 5 rad. Concerns related to imaging modalities that involve ionising radiation include teratogenesis, mutagenesis and childhood malignancy. Importantly, no single imaging study approaches this cautionary dose of 5 rad (50 mSv or 50 mGy). Diagnostic imaging procedures that may be used in pregnancy include chest radiography, fluoroscopy, echocardiography, invasive angiography, cardiovascular computed tomography, computed tomographic pulmonary angiography, cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) and nuclear techniques.

Echocardiography and CMR appear to be completely safe in pregnancy and are not associated with any adverse foetal effects, provided there are no general contra-indications to MR imaging. Concerns related to safety of imaging tests must be balanced against the importance of accurate diagnosis and thorough assessment of the pathological condition. Decisions about imaging in pregnancy are premised on understanding the physiology of pregnancy, understanding basic concepts of ionising radiation, the clinical manifestations of existent CVD in pregnancy and features of new CVD. The cardiologist/physician must understand the indications for and limitations of, and the potential harmful effects of each test during pregnancy. Current evidence suggests that a single cardiovascular radiological study during pregnancy is safe and should be undertaken at all times when clinically justified. In this article, the different imaging modalities are reviewed in terms of how they work, how safe they are and what their clinical utility in pregnancy is. Furthermore, the safety of contrast agents in pregnancy is also reviewed.

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