New procedure safer for detecting fetal anemia

An innovative, non invasive ultrasound procedure to detect anemia in the fetus during high risk pregnancy is safer for patients, according to a study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, July 13.

"The research clearly demonstrates that this new procedure, Doppler ultrasonography, provides a safe and non-invasive method to test for fetal anemia which is far less traumatic to the mother and fetus than traditional testing," said Dr. Seaward, who co-led the study and is Director of Labour and Delivery at Mount Sinai Hospital and Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Toronto. "We hope more high risk perinatal centres will follow suit and adopt this innovative practice."

Anemia occurs when too few red blood cells are in the bloodstream resulting in insufficient oxygen reaching tissues and organs. It occurs in fetuses that inherit certain types of red blood cell antigens from their fathers that are incompatible with those in their mother. While pregnant, the mother's immune system can create antibodies that attack these conflicting red blood cells in the fetus, which may lead to complications including miscarriage, fetal anemia, fetal heart failure and severe jaundice in the newborn period.

Researchers studied 187 mothers-to-be who had been diagnosed with Rhesus disease, one cause of fetal anemia. This condition allows antibodies to enter the fetus from the mother. Although Rhesus disease is not the only cause of fetal anemia, when mothers have this condition it is more likely that the fetus will develop anemia and therefore it is critical to test these high-risk patients. Those fetuses with severe anemia are treated with fetal blood transfusion while still in the uterus.

Dr. Seaward co-led the study with Dr. Oepkes from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, and believes the research will lead to an important and exciting shi

Contact: Jaclyn Crawford
University of Toronto

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