Fetal heart rate patterns in postasphyxiated fetal lambs with brain damage

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

We previously showed that in asphyxiated fetal lambs the duration of hypotension correlated well with the severity of histologic damage to the brain, whereas the duration of bradycardia did not. This study compares fetal heart rate patterns with the degree of histologic damage to the brain.

STUDY DESIGN

Twelve chronically instrumented near-term fetal lambs were subjected to asphyxia by umbilical cord occlusion until fetal arterial pH was <6.9 and base excess was <-20 mEq/L. An additional 4 fetuses served as sham-asphyxia controls. Fetal heart rate (from electrocardiogram), arterial blood pressure, fetal breathing movements, and electrocorticogram were continuously monitored before, during, and for 72 hours after asphyxia. Fetal brain histologic features were categorized as mild (group 1, n = 5), moderate (group 2, n = 4), and severe (group 3, n = 3). Long-term fetal heart rate variability expressed as amplitude range was assessed visually every 5 minutes from 30 minutes before asphyxia until 2 hours of recovery and at 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 hours of recovery.

RESULTS

Long-term fetal heart rate variability amplitude decreased from 32 +/- 17 beats/min (mean +/- SEM) preocclusion to 4 +/- 13 beats/min at the end of occlusion (P < .001) without significant differences among the 3 groups. During 10 to 45 minutes of recovery, the long-term variability of group 1 was significantly greater than that of groups 2 and 3. At 24 to 72 hours of recovery, the long-term variability of groups 1 and 2 was significantly higher than that of group 3, which was almost 0. The "checkmark" and sinusoidal fetal heart rate patterns were observed during the recovery period in groups 2 and 3.

CONCLUSIONS

Decreased long-term fetal heart rate variability and the "checkmark" and sinusoidal fetal heart rate patterns were indicators of the severity of asphyxial histologic damage in the fetal brain. (Am J Obstet Gynecol 1998;179:1329-37.)

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