The abdominal fetal electrocardiogram (fECG) conveys valuable information that can aid clinicians with the diagnosis and monitoring of a potentially at risk fetus during pregnancy and in childbirth. This chapter primarily focuses on noninvasive (external and indirect) transabdominal fECG monitoring. Even though it is the preferred monitoring method, unlike its classical invasive (internal and direct) counterpart (transvaginal monitoring), it may be contaminated by a variety of undesirable signals that deteriorate its quality and reduce its value in reliable detection of hypoxic conditions in the fetus. A stronger maternal electrocardiogram (the mECG signal) along with technical and biological artifacts constitutes the main interfering signal components that diminish the diagnostic quality of the transabdominal fECG recordings. Currently, transabdominal fECG monitoring relies solely on the determination of the fetus’ pulse or heart rate (FHR) by detecting RR intervals and does not take into account the morphology and duration of the fECG waves (P, QRS, T), intervals, and segments, which collectively convey very useful diagnostic information in adult cardiology. The main reason for the exclusion of these valuable pieces of information in the determination of the fetus’ status from clinical practice is the fact that there are no sufficiently reliable and well-proven techniques for accurate extraction of fECG signals and robust derivation of these informative features. To address this shortcoming in fetal cardiology, we focus on adaptive signal processing methods and pay particular attention to nonlinear approaches that carry great promise in improving the quality of transabdominal fECG monitoring and consequently impacting fetal cardiology in clinical practice. Our investigation and experimental results by using clinical-quality synthetic data generated by our novel fECG signal generator suggest that adaptive neuro-fuzzy inference systems could produce a significant advancement in fetal monitoring during pregnancy and childbirth. The possibility of using a single device to leverage two advanced methods of fetal monitoring, namely noninvasive cardiotocography (CTG) and ST segment analysis (STAN) simultaneously, to detect fetal hypoxic conditions is very promising.
Part of the book: Advanced Biosignal Processing and Diagnostic Methods