The long-term foetal surveillance is often to be recommended. Hence, the fully non-invasive acoustic recording, through maternal abdomen, represents a valuable alternative to the ultrasonic cardiotocography. Unfortunately, the recorded heart sound signal is heavily loaded by noise, thus the determination of the foetal heart rate raises serious signal processing issues. In this paper, we present a new algorithm for foetal heart rate estimation from foetal phonocardiographic recordings. A filtering is employed as a first step of the algorithm to reduce the background noise. A block for first heart sounds enhancing is then used to further reduce other components of foetal heart sound signals. A complex logic block, guided by a number of rules concerning foetal heart beat regularity, is proposed as a successive block, for the detection of most probable first heart sounds from several candidates. A final block is used for exact first heart sound timing and in turn foetal heart rate estimation. Filtering and enhancing blocks are actually implemented by means of different techniques, so that different processing paths are proposed. Furthermore, a reliability index is introduced to quantify the consistency of the estimated foetal heart rate and, based on statistic parameters; [,] a software quality index is designed to indicate the most reliable analysis procedure (that is, combining the best processing path and the most accurate time mark of the first heart sound, provides the lowest estimation errors). The algorithm performances have been tested on phonocardiographic signals recorded in a local gynaecology private practice from a sample group of about 50 pregnant women. Phonocardiographic signals have been recorded simultaneously to ultrasonic cardiotocographic signals in order to compare the two foetal heart rate series (the one estimated by our algorithm and the other provided by cardiotocographic device). Our results show that the proposed algorithm, in particular some analysis procedures, provides reliable foetal heart rate signals, very close to the reference cardiotocographic recordings.
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