Stillbirth, by definition, involves death of the fetus. In the US, stillbirth is defined as fetal death before or during birth at ≥ 20 weeks gestation. The World Health Organization defines stillbirth as fetal death after 28 weeks. There are almost 2 million stillbirths worldwide every year (1). Prior stillbirth increases the risk of death of the fetus in subsequent pregnancies (see High-Risk Pregnancy Overview of High-Risk Pregnancy In a high-risk pregnancy, the mother, fetus, or neonate is at increased risk of morbidity or mortality before, during, or after delivery. Risk assessment is part of routine prenatal care. Family... read more ).
Etiology of Stillbirth
If a fetus dies during late pregnancy or near term but remains in the uterus for weeks, consumptive coagulopathy or even disseminated intravascular coagulation Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) involves abnormal, excessive generation of thrombin and fibrin in the circulating blood. During the process, increased platelet aggregation and coagulation... read more (DIC) may occur.
Diagnosis of Stillbirth
Tests to identify the cause
The diagnosis of stillbirth is clinical.
Tests to determine the cause of stillbirth may include the following:
General examination of the stillborn fetus (eg, physical appearance, weight, length, head circumference [ 1 Diagnosis reference Stillbirth is fetal death (fetal demise) at ≥ 20 weeks gestation (> 28 weeks in some definitions). Management is delivery and postpartum care. Maternal and fetal testing is done to determine... read more ])
Fetal autopsy, karyotype, and microarray assessments
Examination of the placenta
Maternal complete blood count (CBC) for evidence of anemia or leukocytosis
Directed screening for acquired thrombotic disorders, including tests for antiphospholipid antibodies (lupus anticoagulant, anticardiolipin [IgG and IgM], anti-beta2 glycoprotein I [IgG and IgM])
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and, if abnormal, free T4 (thyroxine)
Diabetes testing (HbA1C)
TORCH test (toxoplasmosis [with IgG and IgM], other pathogens [eg, human parvovirus B19, varicella-zoster viruses], rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex)
Rapid plasma reagin (RPR)
Testing for hereditary thrombophilia is controversial and is not routinely recommended. The association between stillbirth and hereditary thrombophilia is not clear but does not appear to be strong, except for possibly factor V Leiden mutation. Testing (eg, for factor V Leiden) can be considered when severe abnormalities are detected in the placenta, intrauterine growth restriction occurs, or the woman has a personal or family history of thromboembolic disorders Thromboembolic Disorders in Pregnancy In the US, thromboembolic disorders— deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE)—are a leading cause of maternal mortality. During pregnancy, risk is increased because Venous capacitance... read more (1 Diagnosis reference Stillbirth is fetal death (fetal demise) at ≥ 20 weeks gestation (> 28 weeks in some definitions). Management is delivery and postpartum care. Maternal and fetal testing is done to determine... read more ).
Often, cause cannot be determined.
Treatment of Stillbirth
Uterine evacuation if required
Routine postdelivery care
Uterine evacuation may have spontaneously occurred. If not, evacuation should be done using drugs (eg, oxytocin) or a surgical procedure (eg, dilation and evacuation [D & E], preceded by preabortion osmotic dilators to prepare the cervix, with or without misoprostol), depending on the gestational age.
After the products of conception are expelled, curettage may be needed to remove any retained placental fragments. Fragments are more likely to remain when stillbirth occurs very early in the pregnancy.
If DIC develops, coagulopathy should be promptly and aggressively managed by replacing blood or blood products as needed.
Postdelivery management is similar to that for live birth.
Parents typically feel significant grief and require emotional support and sometimes require formal counseling. Risks with future pregnancies, which are related to the presumed cause, should be discussed with patients.
Stillbirth is fetal death (fetal demise) at ≥ 20 weeks gestation (> 28 weeks in some definitions).
There are many causes of stillbirth (maternal, fetal, or placental).
Disseminated intravascular coagulation may develop secondarily if uterine evacuation is delayed.
Do tests to determine the cause; however, the cause often cannot be determined.
Evacuate the uterus with medication induction or surgical evacuation, and provide emotional support to the parents.
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