Correlation of arterial fetal base deficit and lactate changes with severity of variable heart rate decelerations in the near-term ovine fetus

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Recent guidelines classify variable decelerations without detail as to degree of depth. We hypothesized that variable deceleration severity is highly correlated with fetal base deficit accumulation.

Study Design

Seven near-term fetal sheep underwent a series of graded umbilical cord occlusions resulting in mild (30 bpm decrease), moderate (60 bpm decrease), or severe (decrease of 90 bpm to baseline <70 bpm) variable decelerations at 2.5 minute intervals.


Mild, moderate, and severe variable decelerations increased fetal base deficit (0.21 ± 0.03, 0.27 ± 0.03, and 0.54 ± 0.09 mEq/L per minute) in direct proportion to severity. During recovery, fetal base deficit cleared at 0.12 mEq/L per minute.


In this model, ovine fetuses can tolerate repetitive mild and moderate variable decelerations with minimal change in base deficit and lactate. In contrast, repetitive severe variable decelerations may result in significant base deficit increases, dependent on frequency. Modified guideline differentiation of mild/moderate vs severe variable decelerations may aid in the interpretation of fetal heart rate tracings and optimization of clinical management paradigms.

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