DOI: 10.1002/uog.27546 ISSN: 0960-7692

Fetal premature atrial contractions: natural course, risk factors and adverse outcomes

B. B. Bet, F. C. Eijsbroek, E. van Leeuwen, I. H. Linskens, I. Knobbe, S. A. Clur, E. Pajkrt
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Radiology, Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • General Medicine
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology



Fetal premature atrial contractions (PACs) are usually benign, but are associated with congenital heart defects (CHDs) and tachyarrhythmias, which in turn carry a risk of cardiac failure and fetal death. We aimed to explore the frequency of adverse outcomes and to identify risk factors for tachyarrhythmias in pregnancies complicated by fetal PACs.


Fetuses diagnosed with PACs at two academic centres in Amsterdam between 2007 and 2022 were included in this retrospective cohort study. Cases with congenital anomalies or a prior diagnosis of CHD or other arrhythmias were excluded. M‐mode and Doppler tracings were reanalysed and the PACs frequency recorded. We explored the incidence of adverse outcomes defined as: underlying CHDs not identified during the 20 weeks fetal anomaly scan, tachyarrhythmias, other arrhythmias, administration of antiarrhythmic therapy and death. Risk factors for tachyarrhythmias were analysed using odds ratios (OR).


In 24% of the referred cases, PACs resolved before confirmation at the fetal medicine unit (FMU). Of the 939 included cases with proven PACs, the total incidence of adverse outcome was 6.8% (64/939). CHDs were diagnosed in 14 cases (1.5%, 95%‐CI 0.9‐2.5%) of which eight prenatally and six postnatally. Compared to baseline, the incidence of CHD in the presence of fetal PACs was increased (OR 1.8, 95%‐CI 1.0‐3.3, p=0.034). Tachyarrhythmias occurred prenatally and/or postnatally in 32 cases (3.4%) of which eight (25.0%) showed signs of cardiac failure and in 23 (71.9%) antiarrhythmic therapy was required. None of the tachyarrhythmias led to fetal or neonatal death. Risk factors for a tachyarrhythmia were: PACs with short runs of supraventricular tachycardia (OR 99), blocked PACs (OR 30), PACs in bigeminy (OR 22), frequent PACs (1 per 5‐10 beats) (OR 6.9), signs of cardiac failure (OR 14) and the presence of a foramen ovale aneurysm (OR 5.0).


PACs are generally benign and resolve often spontaneously. However, fetuses with irregular heart rate should be referred for advanced ultrasonography, which should focus on the type of PACs and risk classification. When risk factors for tachyarrhythmias are identified, weekly heart rate monitoring is advised until the PACs resolve. In the absence of risk factors, standard obstetric care may be sufficient with additional instructions to report reduced fetal movements. Should tachyarrhythmias or cardiac failure develop, referral back to the FMU is then indicated.

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