Perinatal death associated with umbilical cord prolapse

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Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when the cord prolapses ahead of or alongside the presenting part. It is an acute obstetric emergency with potential catastrophic effects. We set out to assess incidence of cord prolapse, as well as rates and characteristics of perinatal death associated with the condition.

Study design:

This was a retrospective cohort study. All recorded cases of cord prolapse were included, and rates of perinatal death and encephalopathy, as well as intrapartum and maternal characteristics were examined.


There were 156,130 deliveries at the hospital over the 20-year study period. Three hundred and seven cases of cord prolapse were identified (1.9/1000 deliveries). There was a decrease in the incidence of cord prolapse over the course of the study. The rate peaked in 1999 at 3.9/1000 and was just 0.8/1000 of all deliveries in 2007. The majority of cases (216/307, 70%) occurred in multiparas; however, nulliparous parturients were more likely to have a perinatal death [12% (11/91) vs. 4.6% (10/216)]. The rate of perinatal death in cases of cord prolapse was 6.8% (21/307). Over half of perinatal deaths (11/21) occurred in infants of mothers who presented with ruptured membranes, seven of these infants were already dead on reaching hospital. There was just one case of neonatal encephalopathy associated with cord prolapse, giving an incidence of 0.32%.


Cord prolapse carries a significant risk of perinatal death, approximately 7%. The corresponding rate of encephalopathy is low. A significant number of deaths were diagnosed on presentation to hospital and were not deemed preventable.

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