Placental insufficiency, also referred to as uteroplacental vascular insufficiency, is a rare pregnancy complication affecting only one in every 300 pregnancies. However, it’s a serious complication. If not detected and treated immediately it can lead to life-threatening health complications for both infant and mother.
What Causes Placental Insufficiency?
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 this condition surfaces in pregnancy, the more serious the health risks become.
The most common causes and risk factors include:
- Gestational 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.
Risks to Mother and Baby
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 include:
- Heightened risk of preterm labor and birth
- Placental abruption
- Ruptured placenta
- Bleeding and premature contractions
- Heightened risk of an emergency Cesarean surgery (C-section)
- Maternal infections
- Blood clotting
- Post-term pregnancy
For infants, the risks can be life-threatening, especially if it develops during the first trimester. Some of the risks include:
- Oxygen deprivation at birth
- Brain damage
- 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 percent higher risk of developing the following birth defects:
- Brain damage
- Lung dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal problems
Diagnosis and Treatment
Prenatal care by a qualified physician is imperative for the diagnosis and treatment of placental insufficiency. During a routine ultrasound, problems with the placenta can be detected – in this case, a smaller uterus, a small placenta and the placement of the placenta. Additionally, checking the mother’s alpha-fetoprotein levels can help detect the condition, as well as monitoring and measuring the baby’s heart rate.
Since preeclampsia 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, blood sugar must be 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.
Placental Insufficiency Prognosis
Although there is no cure for placental insufficiency, it can be managed with the correct medical diagnosis and intervention. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for not only the management of the condition, but also for the health of both mother and baby.