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Systematic analysis of single- and multi-reference adaptive filters for non-invasive fetal electrocardiography

1 Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Cagliari, Cagliari 09123, Italy
2 Division of Pediatric Cardiology, S. Michele Hospital, Cagliari 09123, Italy

Special Issues: Computer Methods and Programs in Prenatal Medicine

Non-invasive fetal electrocardiography (ECG) has been a research challenge for the past few decades. Due to instrumental noise and the spectral overlap of the maternal ECG signal, the signal-to-noise ratio for fetal ECG is very low. Various techniques have been proposed for cancelling the maternal ECG signal and extracting the fetal QRS complex from non-invasive abdominal recordings. Of these, adaptive filters enable satisfactory extraction when there is only a limited number of signal channels available, but the extraction quality is strongly dependent on the electrode placement. In this work, we systematically analyze this issue by comparing single- and multi-reference implementations of QRD-recursive least square (RLS) adaptive filters and evaluating their performances on real and simulated data in terms of the signal-to-interference ratio (SIR), maternal ECG attenuation, and fetal-QRS-complex detection accuracy. Beyond demonstrating the expected superior performance of the multi-reference version (p < 0.05) with respect to all metrics, except the QRS detection accuracy on synthetic data, we also analyze in detail the effectiveness of this technique with different lead orientations with respect to the correct interpretation of the adopted quality indexes. The results reveal that the single-reference approach, which is preferred when only the fetal heart rate is of interest, cannot produce a signal that has acceptable fetal QRS detection accuracy, regardless of the reference lead selection.
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