What Are The Causes Of Fetal Anemia During Pregnancy?

Fetal Anemia During Pregnancy

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Are you pregnant and has your doctor asked you to undergo various tests? Are you confused about what the tests are for and what they mean? Has your doctor mentioned a test that hints towards a case of fetal anemia?

If you are worried and confused about what fetal anemia is and how it can affect your unborn baby, continue with the post.

What Is Fetal Anemia?

Fetal anemia is the condition where the amount or quality of red blood cells in the circulatory system of the unborn baby, or fetus, is not adequate. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the various organs and cells in the body.

Fetal anemia can be mild or even severe, and can lead to various complications. In severe cases, the unborn baby’s heart starts pumping harder to overcome the inadequacy. It can be very dangerous as it can lead to fetal heart failure, or hydrops. [1]

What Are The Causes Of Fetal Anemia?

The most common cause of fetal anemia is when there is a specific difference in the blood antigens or proteins of the fetus and the mother. It is also called alloimmunization. The condition can occur when the fetal, or unborn baby, inherits some blood antigens from the father that are not present in the mother. The mother’s system does not recognize these and creates antibodies to attack the cells of the fetus. It can lead to a destruction of the red blood cells in the fetus. In severe cases it can lead to fetal anemia. Fetal anemia causes heat failure which leads to death. [2]

Diagnosis Of Fetal Anemia:

Fetal anemia symptoms can be diagnosed in the following ways: [3]

1. Through Prenatal Ultrasound:

A prenatal ultrasound will help the doctor detect any signs of heart failure in the fetus or hydrops that happens as a result of fetal anemia. In the case of fetal hydrops, the fluid gets accumulated and there can be a swelling in the fetal tissues. In some cases, heart failure can occur when the heart pumps too fast to help the red blood cells provide oxygen to the heart.

In certain cases, doctors suspect anemia when there is an increase in the blood flow in one of the fetal vessels in the brain. It is called the middle cerebral artery (MCA). The doctors can measure the MCA blood flow at the time of a prenatal ultrasound.

[ Read: Fetal Kidney Problems During Pregnancy ]

2. Blood Sample From The Mother:

The blood sample of the mother can show if certain antibodies are present that can cause fetal anemia.

[ Read: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome ]

3. Amniocentesis:

The procedure of amniocentesis is done by inserting a needle in the mother’s abdomen and into the amniotic sac. It provides the doctors with a sample of the amniotic fluid that can help to determine levels of bilirubin (that shows the breakdown of the red blood cells). The sample amount taken is very small and generally does not involve hospitalization.

[ Read: Fetal Echocardiography ]

4. Sampling Of The Fetal Blood:

The procedure of fetal blood sampling is almost the same as that used in amniocentesis. In this procedure, the needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen and into the umbilical vein of the fetus. An ultrasound is used to guide the entire procedure. The doctor will take out a small amount of the fetal blood to check the fetal blood count. The test is a little dangerous as it can lead to serious complications like miscarriage, preterm labor, infection and even fetal distress. In severe cases, it can lead to the death of the unborn baby.

How Is Fetal Anemia Treated?

Your doctor may use any of the following methods to treat fetal anemia: [4]

  • Your doctor may monitor the fetal frequently and measure the flow of blood in the MCA.
  • In the case of moderate to severe fetal anemia, doctors may refer a fetal blood sampling and transfusion. In this procedure, compatible red blood cells will be transfused into the umbilical vein using ultrasound visualization. It is very similar to the procedure of fetal blood sampling. The procedure may have to be repeated once in one to four weeks, depending on the condition of the fetus.

Fetal anemia can be a distressing condition for you as a parent, but in most cases, your baby will be absolutely fine. Speak to your doctor to understand how you can take care of yourself during this time. Also, check how you should care for your baby after the birth.

Were you diagnosed with fetal anemia during your pregnancy? How was it diagnosed? What were the treatment options used? Do share your experience here to help other moms.

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