Speckle-Tracking Echocardiography for the Assessment of Atrial Function during Fetal Life

Joao Rato*, Trisha V. Vigneswaran, John M. Simpson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Speckle-tracking echocardiography has become a major tool in the evaluation of heart function. Atrial strain has emerged as an important component in the assessment of cardiac function, but there is a paucity of prenatal data. The aim of this study was to describe our initial experience of measurement of atrial strain in fetuses, with respect to both feasibility and the strain patterns observed. Methods: Four-chamber Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine loops were acquired prospectively for deformation imaging. Fifty-three normal fetuses with no morphologic or functional abnormalities were selected for analysis. The three strain components of atrial cycle for both left atrium (LA) and right atrium (RA) were acquired—reservoir (LAres or RAres), conduit, and contraction (LAct or RAct)—and are expressed as a percentage. Ratios of these components were calculated. Simple linear regression was used to analyze how the dependent variables changed according to gestational age and frame rate. Results: The median gestational age was 30 weeks (range, 23-35), and the frame rate was 74 frames per second (fps; range, 35-121). Left atrial strain was feasible in 48/53 (91%), and right atrial strain in 46/53 (87%) of cases. The onset of LA contraction could be identified on the strain curves in 32 of 48 (67%) cases, and of the RA in 17 of 46 (37%) cases. The values of RAres and RAct were higher compared with those of LAres and LAct (33.9% vs 30.3%, P = .014; and 21.5% vs 16.8%, P = .005), and the contraction:reservoir ratio was also higher for RA (0.63 vs 0.55 for LA, P = .003). Higher values for LAres, LAct, RAres, and RAct were associated with higher frame rate (P = .007, .020, .049, and .012, respectively). The onset of LA contraction was better identified with a higher frame rate (mean 77 vs 59 fps when not seen, P = .007). A higher LA contraction:reservoir ratio was associated with a lower gestational age (P = .042). Conclusion: Measurement of atrial strain is feasible in the fetal heart. The values are influenced by gestational age and frame rate, so it is necessary to account for these variables. Comparison of left versus right atrial strain values contrasts with those observed postnatally. Atrial function merits further study during fetal life, to aid understanding of maturational changes and disease states.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1391-1399
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Society of Echocardiography
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Society of Echocardiography


  • Atrial function
  • Atrial strain
  • Deformation imaging
  • Fetal cardiology
  • Speckle-tracking echocardiography


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