Intrauterine hypoxia occurs when the fetus is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen. It may be due to a variety of reasons such as prolapse or occlusion of the umbilical cord, placental infarction and maternal smoking. Intrauterine growth restriction may cause or be the result of hypoxia. Intrauterine hypoxia can cause cellular damage that occurs within the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). This results in an increased mortality rate, including an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Oxygen deprivation in the fetus and neonate have been implicated as either a primary or as a contributing risk factor in numerous neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders such as epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and cerebral palsy.
|Micrograph of a placental infarct (left of image), a cause of intrauterine hypoxia. H&E stain.|
There are various causes for intrauterine hypoxia. The most preventable cause is maternal smoking. Cigarette smoking by expectant mothers has been shown to have a wide variety of deleterious effects on the developing fetus. Among the negative effects are carbon monoxide induced tissue hypoxia and placental insufficiency which causes a reduction in blood flow from the uterus to the placenta thereby reducing the availability of oxygenated blood to the fetus. Placental insufficiency as a result of smoking has been shown to have a causal effect in the development of pre-eclampsia. While some previous studies have suggested that carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke may have a protective effect against preeclampsia, a recent study conducted by the Genetics of Pre-Eclampsia Consortium in the United Kingdom found that smokers were five times more likely to develop pre-eclampsia. Nicotine alone has been shown to be a teratogen which affects the autonomic nervous system, leading to increased susceptibility to hypoxia-induced brain damage. Maternal anemia in which smoking has also been implicated is another factor associated with IH/BA. Smoking by expectant mothers causes a decrease in maternal nucleated red blood cells, thereby reducing the amount of red blood cells available for oxygen transport.
The perinatal brain injury occurring as a result of birth asphyxia, manifesting within 48 hours of birth, is a form of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
Treatment of infants suffering birth asphyxia by lowering the core body temperature is now known to be an effective therapy to reduce mortality and improve neurological outcome in survivors, and hypothermia therapy for neonatal encephalopathy begun within 6 hours of birth significantly increases the chance of normal survival in affected infants.
There has long been a debate over whether newborn infants with birth asphyxia should be resuscitated with 100% oxygen or normal air. It has been demonstrated that high concentrations of oxygen lead to generation of oxygen free radicals, which have a role in reperfusion injury after asphyxia. Research by Ola Didrik Saugstad and others led to new international guidelines on newborn resuscitation in 2010, recommending the use of normal air instead of 100% oxygen.
IH/BA is also a causative factor in cardiac and circulatory birth defects the sixth most expensive condition, as well as premature birth and low birth weight the second most expensive and it is one of the contributing factors to infant respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) also known as hyaline membrane disease, the most expensive medical condition to treat and the number one cause of infant mortality.
|Most expensive medical condition treated in U.S. hospitals. 4 out of 10 linked to intrauterine hypoxia/birth asphxia||Cost||Hospital Charge|
|1. Infant respiratory distress syndrome||$45,542||$138,224|
|2. Premature birth and low birth weight||$44,490||$119,389|
|6. Cardiac and circulatory birth defects||$35,960||$101,412|
|9. Intrauterine hypoxia or birth asphyxia||$27,962||$74,942|
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