Causes of oligohydramnios include the following:
Uteroplacental insufficiency (eg, due to preeclampsia Preeclampsia and Eclampsia Preeclampsia is new-onset or worsening of existing hypertension with proteinuria after 20 weeks gestation. Eclampsia is unexplained generalized seizures in patients with preeclampsia. Diagnosis... read more , chronic hypertension Hypertension in Pregnancy Recommendations regarding classification, diagnosis, and management of hypertensive disorders (including preeclampsia) are available from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists... read more , placental abruption Placental Abruption (Abruptio Placentae) Placental abruption (abruptio placentae) is premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, usually after 20 weeks gestation. It can be an obstetric emergency. Manifestations may include... read more , a thrombotic disorder 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 , or another maternal disorder)
Some medications (eg, angiotensin-converting enzyme [ACE] inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs])
Fetal malformations, particularly those that decrease urine production
Complications of oligohydramnios include the following:
Intrauterine growth restriction
Limb contractures (if oligohydramnios begins early in the pregnancy)
Delayed or incomplete lung maturation (if oligohydramnios begins early in the pregnancy)
Inability of the fetus to tolerate labor, leading to the need for cesarean delivery
Risk of complications depends on how much amniotic fluid is present and what the cause is.
Symptoms and Signs of Oligohydramnios
Oligohydramnios itself tends not to cause maternal symptoms other than a sense of decreased fetal movement. Uterine size may be less than expected based on gestational age.
Disorders causing or contributing to oligohydramnios may cause symptoms.
Diagnosis of Oligohydramnios
Ultrasonographic measurement of amniotic fluid volume
Comprehensive ultrasonographic examination, including evaluation for fetal malformations
Testing for clinically suspected maternal causes
Oligohydramnios may be suspected if uterine size is less than expected for dates or if fetal movements are decreased; it may also be suspected based on incidental ultrasonographic findings. However, qualitative estimates of amniotic fluid volume tend to be subjective. If oligohydramnios is suspected, amniotic fluid should be assessed quantitatively using the amniotic fluid index (AFI) or single deepest pocket (SDP).
The volume of amniotic fluid cannot be measured directly. Thus, excessive fluid is defined indirectly using one of the following ultrasonographic criteria:
AFI ≤ 5 cm: AFI is the sum of the vertical depth of fluid measured in each quadrant of the uterus; normal AFI ranges from > 5 to < 24 cm.
SDP < 2 cm: SDP is a measurement of the deepest pocket of amniotic fluid; normal SDP is ≥ 2 to < 8 cm.
It appears that neither AFI nor SDP is superior to the other in terms of preventing adverse perinatal outcomes. Each has limitations: AFI often results in overdiagnosis of oligohydramnios; SDP results in overdiagnosis of polyhydramnios (1 Diagnosis references Oligohydramnios is amniotic fluid volume that is less than expected for gestational age; it is associated with maternal and fetal complications. Diagnosis is by ultrasonographic measurement... read more , 2 Diagnosis references Oligohydramnios is amniotic fluid volume that is less than expected for gestational age; it is associated with maternal and fetal complications. Diagnosis is by ultrasonographic measurement... read more ).
Identification of cause
If oligohydramnios is diagnosed, clinicians should check for possible causes, including premature rupture of membranes. Comprehensive ultrasonographic examination is done to check for fetal malformations and any evident placental causes (eg, placental abruption).
Clinicians can offer amniocentesis and fetal karyotyping if ultrasonography suggests fetal malformations or aneuploidy.
If uteroplacental insufficiency is suspected and intrauterine growth restriction is detected, the umbilical artery is assessed using Doppler ultrasonography.
1. Kehl S, Schelkle A, Thomas A, et al: Single deepest vertical pocket or amniotic fluid index as evaluation test for predicting adverse pregnancy outcome (SAFE trial): A multicenter, open-label, randomized controlled trial. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol 47 (6):674–679, 2016. doi: 10.1002/uog.14924
2. Nabhan AF, Abdelmoula YA: Amniotic fluid index versus single deepest vertical pocket as a screening test for preventing adverse pregnancy outcome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008 (3):CD006593, 2008.
Treatment of Oligohydramnios
Serial ultrasonography to determine AFI and monitor fetal growth
Nonstress testing or biophysical profile
Ultrasonography should be done at least once every 2 to 4 weeks (every 2 weeks if growth is restricted) to monitor fetal growth. The AFI should be measured at least once a week. Most experts recommend fetal monitoring Fetal Monitoring Labor consists of a series of rhythmic, involuntary or medically induced contractions of the uterus that result in effacement (thinning and shortening) and dilation of the uterine cervix. The... read more with nonstress testing or biophysical profile at least once a week and delivery at 36 to 37 weeks/6 days for isolated and uncomplicated oligohydramnios or at diagnosis if diagnosed at ≥ 37 weeks (1 Treatment reference Oligohydramnios is amniotic fluid volume that is less than expected for gestational age; it is associated with maternal and fetal complications. Diagnosis is by ultrasonographic measurement... read more ). However, this approach has not been proved to prevent fetal death.
Also, optimal time for delivery is controversial and can vary based on patient characteristics and fetal complications.
1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Obstetric Practice, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Medically indicated late-preterm and early-term deliveries: ACOG Committee Opinion, Number 831. Obstet Gynecol 138 (1):e35–e39, 2021. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000004447
Oligohydramnios is amniotic fluid volume that is less than expected for gestational age.
Oligohydramnios can be caused by uteroplacental insufficiency, drugs, fetal abnormalities, or rupture of membranes.
It can cause problems in the fetus (eg, growth restriction, limb contractures, death, delayed lung maturation, inability to tolerate labor).
If oligohydramnios is suspected, determine the amniotic fluid index or single deepest pocket and test for possible causes (including doing a comprehensive ultrasonographic evaluation).
Do ultrasonography a least once every 4 weeks, and consider fetal monitoring at least once a week and delivery at 36 to 37 weeks/6 days or at diagnosis if diagnosed at ≥ 37 weeks (although optimal time for delivery varies based on clinical context).