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Home Fetal Heart Monitors Can Provide False Reassurance

Over-the-counter monitors are a fun item but not a reliable medical device, study warns

FRIDAY, Nov. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Expectant parents who use over-the-counter fetal heart monitors to listen to their unborn child's heartbeat should not rely on them to check on fetal health, as, in untrained hands, the devices can offer false reassurance, according to a study published Nov. 5 in BMJ.

Abhijoy Chakladar and Hazel Adams, of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in Haywards Heath, U.K., describe the case of a 34-year-old woman who presented at the hospital 38 weeks pregnant unable to detect her baby's heartbeat, but who reported having detected it over the previous two days using a fetal heart monitor after fetal movements had reduced.

An ultrasound scan revealed no fetal activity, and intrauterine death was diagnosed. The authors assumed that the mother had not been listening to the fetal heartbeat, but to placental flow or her own heartbeat.

"The intrauterine death in our case may have been unavoidable, but the use of a fetal heart monitor certainly delayed presentation to hospital," the authors write. "Manufacturers and retailers have an obligation to make the limitations of these devices absolutely clear, as the untrained use of fetal heart monitors constitutes a risk to the safety of pregnant women and their unborn babies. The risk will undoubtedly increase as these devices become more popular."

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