Placental Insufficiency

Placental insufficiency, also referred to as uteroplacental vascular insufficiency, is a rare pregnancy complication, affecting only 1 in every 300 pregnancies. However, it’s a serious complication, and if not detected and treated as soon as possible, can lead to life-threatening health complications for both infant and mothers. 

Placental Insufficiency Causes

Placental insufficiency is a blood disorder marked by inadequate blood flow to the placenta during pregnancy. In turn, the infant is unable to receive adequate nutrients and oxygen, making it difficult for the baby to grow and thrive while in utero. The earlier placental insufficiency surfaces in pregnancy, the more serious the health risks become.

The most common causes and risk factors associated with placental insufficiency include:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking and/or taking illegal drugs
  • Taking blood thinner medications
  • Maternal blood clotting

Placental Insufficiency Symptoms

Unfortunately, placental insufficiency doesn’t have any outward symptoms. However, women who have been pregnant before may notice less fetal movement when compared to previous pregnancies.

Dangers of Placental Insufficiency

In most cases, mothers are not at risk for death if placental insufficiency develops, but preeclampsia, one of the most common risk factors of the condition, may heighten the risk. Preeclampsia alone brings on its own set of dangers to the mother, including extremely high blood pressure, abnormal weight gain, edema, protein in the urine, and severe headaches.

Other maternal dangers if placental insufficiency develops include:

  • Heightened risk of premature labor and delivery
  • Placental abruption
  • Bleeding and premature contractions
  • Heightened risk of an emergency cesarean surgery (C-section)
  • Maternal infections and blood clotting
  • Post-term pregnancy

For infants, the risks of placental insufficiency can be life-threatening, especially if it develops during the first trimester. Some of the risks include:

  • Oxygen deprivation during the labor and delivery period
  • Hypothermia
  • Low blood sugar
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
  • Excessive red blood cell count

Infants are also at risk for numerous birth defects. According to a study performed by the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG), an early onset of placental insufficiency places infants at 40% higher risk of developing the following birth defects:

  • Brain damage
  • Lung dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Diagnosis and Treatment for Placental Insufficiency

Prenatal care by a qualified physician is imperative for the diagnosis and treatment of placental insufficiency. During a routine ultrasound, placental insufficiency can be detected due to the smaller uterus and the placement of the placenta. Additionally, checking the mother’s alpha-fetoprotein levels can help detect the condition as well as a monitoring and measuring the baby’s heart rate. 

Since preeclampsia, as mentioned earlier, is one of the leading risk factors of placental insufficiency, getting the mother’s high blood pressure under control can help the infant thrive and grow. If the mother has diabetes, the blood sugar must me monitored and kept under control.

Since preterm labor is a risk factor, some physicians may opt to give the mother steroid shots in order to strengthen the baby’s lungs.

It’s important for physicians to detect and monitor women suffering from placental insufficiency. If left untreated, the aforementioned dangers are heightened.

Placental Insufficiency Prognosis

Although there is no cure for placental insufficiency, it can be managed with the correct medical assistance and intervention. Again, early diagnosis and treatment is vital for not only the management of placental insufficiency, but also for the health of both mother and baby.