New method for monitoring fetal heartbeat

September 11, 2017, Frontiers

Researchers have developed a technique to accurately isolate fetal heart sounds from background noise in acoustic recordings, allowing them to distinguish between different segments of the fetal heartbeat. This technique could potentially lead to non-invasive and inexpensive fetal monitoring that a mother could perform in her own home, and inform doctors about fetal health, making pregnancy safer.

During pregnancy, monitoring the and development of the growing fetus is vital. Monitoring the is an important aspect of this, and doctors typically use equipment such as a Doppler ultrasound probe or an electrical fetal monitoring system to investigate activity. However, the equipment involved in these techniques is expensive and can be difficult to operate, meaning that only a specialist can use it.

At present, pregnant mothers must travel to a hospital or clinic to undergo routine checkups so that doctors can assess fetal health. However, complications can sometimes arise with no warning, and without long-term between checkups doctors can't always spot them in time to avoid problems.

A simpler way to assess fetal health involves doctors examining the sounds in a mother's abdomen, by placing cheap vibration sensors on the mother's belly and recording the acoustic signals emitted by the fetal heart. In fact, the technique is simple enough that a mother could potentially place the sensors on her belly in the comfort of her home and make recordings that her doctor can analyze later.

So far, researchers have found it challenging to accurately and reliably pick out the sound of the fetal heart from the recording. The low acoustic energy of the makes this difficult, along with conflicting sounds such as the mother's own heartbeat and breathing and noise from her digestive system. This means that doctors do not routinely use the technique to monitor fetal health.

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, a group of researchers from Greece and Abu Dhabi set out to distinguish between fetal heart sounds and in this type of acoustic signal.

"We wanted to see if a mathematical analysis technique called Wavelet Transform-Fractal Dimension, that has been successfully used to de-noise lung and bowel sounds, could be used to examine fetal heart sounds more accurately," says Elisavet Koutsiana, a researcher at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Initially, the team tested and perfected their mathematical noise-filtering technique using a database of simulated fetal heart recordings, before progressing to authentic recordings of fetal hearts. Some of these simulations emulate the sound of fetal hearts with specific conditions such as arrhythmias or an abnormally fast or slow heartbeat.

Using their mathematical to process the sounds, the team could clearly discern the fetal heart sounds in both authentic fetal recordings and simulations of healthy hearts, and only slightly less clearly in simulations of abnormally fast or slow heartbeats. They could still recognize the heart sounds even when unexpected noises were present. In many cases, the team could discern the fetal heart sounds well enough that they could distinguish between the different segments of the fetal , which could be useful for doctors in their assessment of fetal health.

"Our work suggests that there is potential for low cost and continuous recordings of fetal heart sounds in the home," says Koutsiana. "We plan to continue the research with more real recorded signals to learn more about the cycle and how it relates to health, and also to improve the accuracy of the system further. Our results should help doctors to make pregnancy safer."

Explore further: Fetal membranes may help transform regenerative medicine

More information: Elisavet Koutsiana et al, Fetal Heart Sounds Detection Using Wavelet Transform and Fractal Dimension, Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fbioe.2017.00049

Related Stories

Fetal membranes may help transform regenerative medicine

August 30, 2017
A new review looks at the potential of fetal membranes, which make up the amniotic sac surrounding the fetus during pregnancy, for regenerative medicine.

Distinct maternal, fetal risks for anticoagulants in pregnancy

May 31, 2017
(HealthDay)—Anticoagulation for mechanical heart valves during pregnancy is associated with distinct maternal and fetal risks, according to a review published in the June 6 issue of the Journal of the American College of ...

New WHO international fetal growth charts

January 24, 2017
A research article published in PLOS Medicine contributes to the evidence base regarding the use of population charts for detection of fetal growth disorders and how best to determine risk of complications.

Study shows language development starts in the womb

July 18, 2017
A month before they are born, fetuses carried by American mothers-to-be can distinguish between someone speaking to them in English and Japanese.

Recommended for you

Air pollutants linked to abnormal fetal growth

February 23, 2018
Chinese mothers who were exposed to a high level of certain air pollutants during pregnancy had a higher risk of abnormal fetal growth, according to a new Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) study.

Scientists discover critical molecular biomarkers of preeclampsia

February 21, 2018
Preeclampsia, a sudden pregnancy complication that can interfere with the blood flow to the placenta and possibly to the fetus, can lead to low birth weight, prematurity and even death. It is also a leading cause of maternal ...

Transgender women can breastfeed, first case study shows

February 16, 2018
The first scientific case study has been published describing how a US transgender woman was able to breastfeed her adopted infant by taking hormones that induce lactation.

Controversial pregnancy test drug shows deformities in zebrafish embryos within hours of exposure

February 13, 2018
The components of a controversial drug, allegedly linked to birth defects in the 1960s and '70s, caused deformations to fish embryos just hours after they received a dose in new studies by researchers at the University of ...

Direct link between glands and implanting embryos critical to pregnancy

February 9, 2018
Researchers used 3D imaging with molecular testing to uncover new insight into the earliest stages of mammalian pregnancy—offering clues to unsolved questions in pregnancy.

Lab-grown eggs could pave way towards new fertility treatments

February 8, 2018
Human eggs have been fully grown in a laboratory, in a move that could lead to improved fertility treatments.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.