Polyhydramnios is excessive amniotic fluid; it is associated with maternal and fetal complications. Diagnosis is by ultrasonographic measurement of amniotic fluid. Maternal disorders contributing to polyhydramnios are treated. If symptoms are severe or if painful preterm contractions occur, treatment may also include manual reduction of amniotic fluid volume.
The volume of amniotic fluid cannot be safely measured directly, except perhaps during cesarean delivery. Thus, excessive fluid is defined indirectly using ultrasonographic criteria, typically the amniotic fluid index (AFI). The AFI is the sum of the vertical depth of fluid measured in each quadrant of the uterus. The normal AFI ranges from 5 to 25 cm; values > 25 cm indicate polyhydramnios.
Causes of polyhydramnios include the following:
With polyhydramnios, risk of the following complications is increased:
Risks tend to be proportional to the degree of fluid accumulation and vary with the cause. Other problems (eg, low Apgar score, fetal distress, nuchal cord, need for cesarean delivery) may occur. Women with polyhydramnios may have pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Symptoms and Signs
Polyhydramnios is often asymptomatic. However, some women, especially when polyhydramnios is severe, have difficulty breathing, and/or painful preterm contractions. Sometimes the uterus is larger than expected for dates.
Polyhydramnios is usually suspected based on ultrasonographic findings or uterine size that is larger than expected for dates. However, qualitative estimates of amniotic fluid volume tend to be subjective. So if polyhydramnios is suspected, amniotic fluid should be assessed quantitatively using the AFI.
Identification of cause:
If polyhydramnios is present, further testing is recommended to determine the cause. Which tests are done may depend on which causes are suspected clinically (usually based on history). Tests may include
Because polyhydramnios increases risk of fetal death, prenatal monitoring should begin at 32 wk and should include nonstress testing at least once/wk. However, such monitoring has not been proved to decrease the fetal death rate. Delivery at about 39 wk should be planned. Mode of delivery should be based on the usual obstetrical indications (eg, presenting part).
Reducing amniotic fluid volume (eg, by amnioreduction) or reducing its production should be considered only if preterm labor occurs or if polyhydramnios causes severe symptoms; however, there is no evidence that this approach improves outcomes. Also, there is no consensus on how much fluid to remove and how rapidly it should be removed, although removal of about 1 L over 20 min has been suggested.
Disorders that could be contributing to polyhydramnios (eg, maternal diabetes) should be controlled.
Last full review/revision January 2014 by Antonette T. Dulay, MD
Content last modified January 2014