Fetal cardiac output, distribution to the placenta and impact of placental compromise

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Intrauterine growth restriction is a common clinical problem, but the underlying hemodynamic changes are not well known. Our aim was to determine the normal distribution of fetal cardiac output to the placenta during the second half of pregnancy, and to assess the changes imposed by growth restriction with various degrees of placental compromise.


A cross-sectional study of 212 low-risk pregnancies with a gestational age of 18–41 weeks constituted the reference population. A second group of 64 pregnancies with an estimated fetal weight ≤ 2.5th percentile constituted the study group. Ultrasound measurements of inner diameters and velocities at the fetal left and right ventricular outlets and intra-abdominal umbilical vein were used to determine combined left and right cardiac output (CCO) and the fraction distributed to the placenta. Placental compromise was graded according to umbilical artery waveform: pulsatility index normal, > 97.5th percentile, or absent/reversed end-diastolic velocity. Regression analysis and Z-score (SD-score) statistics were used to establish normal ranges and to compare groups.


During gestational weeks 18–41 the normal CCO/kg was on average 400 mL/min/kg and the fraction directed to the placenta was on average 32%, while after 32 weeks it was 21%. In intrauterine growth restriction the CCO/kg was not significantly different, but the fraction to the placenta was lower (P < 0.001). This effect was more pronounced in severe placental compromise (P < 0.001).


Normally, one third of the fetal CCO is distributed to the placenta in most of the second half of pregnancy, and one fifth near term. In placental compromise this fraction is reduced while CCO/kg is maintained at normal levels, signifying an increased recirculation of umbilical blood in the fetal body. Copyright © 2006 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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