Fetal Distress

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What is Fetal Distress?

A healthy fetus must receive a steady supply of oxygen inside of the womb. Oxygen reaches a fetus through the placenta’s blood supply. During pregnancy or the course of labor, the supply of blood to the fetus becomes abnormal. Ischemia is the result of an abnormal blood supply and hypoxia is the result of a reduced amount of oxygen in the blood. If either of these conditions occurs the fetus will experience fetal distress.Fetal distress may result in permanent consequences. Brain damage and death are possible results of oxygen deprivation. In some cases, there are risks to the mother as well. In order to avoid the permanent consequences associate with fetal distress, the condition must be resolved immediately. Sometimes a steady supply of oxygen can be restored to the fetus but other times immediate delivery is necessary. If delivery is required, it is often in the form of a Cesarean-section.

What causes fetal distress?

Fetal distress or fetal distress syndrome is a non-technical term for any of number of symptoms that indicate that a woman is experiencing problems with her pregnancy, and that the fetus may be in danger. The signs can occur before or during birth. Signs of fetal distress are a primary concern of an obstetrician during a woman’s pregnancy. Fetal distress can be caused by any of several circumstances. These are the major factors:

  • Uteroplacental insufficiency or unacceptable exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide by either the mother or the fetus.
  • Severe placental problems caused by pregnancy induced high blood pressure (known as pre-eclampsia or preeclampsia) and by diabetes.
  • Infection of the uterus or the area around the uterus.
  • Compression of the umbilical cord.
  • Placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterine wall).
  • A uterine rupture. This can be a life threatening condition and the longer that delivery is delayed the more likely that death or permanent injury will occur.


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