Right Atrial Dysfunction in the Fetus with Severely Regurgitant Tricuspid Valve Disease: A Potential Source of Cardiovascular Compromise

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In severe right heart obstruction (RHO), redistribution of cardiac output to the left ventricle (LV) is well tolerated by the fetal circulation. Although the same should be true of severely regurgitant tricuspid valve disease (rTVD) with reduced or no output from the right ventricle, affected fetuses more frequently develop hydrops or suffer intrauterine demise. We hypothesized that right atrium (RA) function is altered in rTVD but not in RHO, which could contribute to differences in outcomes.


Multi-institutional retrospective review of fetal echocardiograms performed over a 10-year period on fetuses with rTVD (Ebstein's anomaly, tricuspid valve dysplasia) or RHO (pulmonary atresia/intact ventricular septum, tricuspid atresia) and a healthy fetal control group. Offline velocity vector imaging and Doppler measurements of RA size and function and LV function were made.


Thirty-four fetuses with rTVD, 40 with RHO, and 79 controls were compared. The rTVD fetuses had the largest RA size and lowest RA expansion index, fractional area of change, and RA indexed filling and emptying rates compared with fetuses with RHO and controls. The rTVD fetuses had the shortest LV ejection time and increased Tei index with a normal LV ejection fraction. RA dilation (odds ratio, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.05–1.54) and reduced indexed emptying rate (odds ratio, 2.49; 95% CI, 1.07–5.81) were associated with fetal or neonatal demise.


Fetal rTVD is characterized by more severe RA dilation and dysfunction compared with fetal RHO and control groups. RA dysfunction may be an important contributor to reduced ventricular filling and output, potentially playing a critical role in the worsened outcomes observed in fetal rTVD.

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