Hydrops Fetalis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

mom with baby

Hydrops Fetalis is a severe and life-threatening condition that can affect fetuses or newborn babies. If your newborn or unborn baby is diagnosed with this condition, this post will help you understand its causes, symptoms, and the treatment options, too.

What Is Hydrops Fetalis?

Hydrops Fetalis is characterised by abnormal amounts of fluids that accumulate in two or more body parts of the baby. This fluid buildup can occur anywhere in the body, but in most cases, it occurs in the lungs, abdomen, heart, or even under the skin of the baby. Hydrops fetalis is not actually a disease, but a symptom of an underlying health condition that the baby may be suffering from. If left untreated, hydrops can stress the baby’s vital organs and lead to life-threatening complications. There are two types of hydrops fetalis – Immune Hydrops Fetalis and Non-Immune Hydrops Fetalis. As the names suggest, these are also the causes of hydrops fetalis.

Causes of Hydrops Fetalis

There are two types or kinds of hydrops in pregnancy:

  1. Immune

This is a type of hydrops which occurs when there is an RH-incompatibility between the fetal and mother’s blood. If the fetus’ blood is Rh-positive, and the mother’s blood is Rh-negative, the mother’s blood treats the baby’s blood as invaders and sends out antibodies to fight it. Extreme cases of Rh-incompatibility can cause immune hydrops.

2. Non-Immune

Non-immune hydrops fetalis is more common and occurs when some kind of disease or ailment hampers with the body’s ability to regulate fluids. Some of the health conditions that can lead to non-immune hydrops fetalis include chromosomal abnormalities, congenital infections, severe anaemia, etc.

Symptoms of Hydrops Fetalis

Here are some of the symptoms that can be present in a pregnant woman or a baby:

Signs in Pregnant Women

If the fetus has hydrops, a pregnant woman may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Excess amounts of amniotic fluid or abnormally large or thick placenta (placental hydrops).
  • Fluid buildup in the baby’s abdominal region (evident during an ultrasound scan).
  • Enlarged heart, liver or spleen of the baby (can be observed during an ultrasound scan).

Signs in Babies

A baby born with hydrops can show the following signs or symptoms:

  • Severe swelling in the baby’s abdomen.
  • Bruising.
  • Pale skin.
  • Severe jaundice.
  • Difficulty in breathing.
  • Enlarged spleen and liver.

Diagnosis of Hydrops Fetalis

Following are some of the diagnosis techniques that your doctor may adopt to establish hydrops fetalis:

1. An Ultrasound Scan

Your doctor can conduct an ultrasound scan to examine the unborn baby’s organs, tissues, and blood vessels. This test or hydrops fetalis ultrasound will help the doctor is establishing how the blood is flowing in different parts of the baby’s baby.

2. Amniocentesis

This process involves extracting some amniotic fluid around the baby to test for any complications.

3. The Fetal Blood Sampling

Blood sampling is invasive and requires inserting a needle through the mother’s uterus and into one of the baby’s blood vessels of the umbilical cord.

After the doctor makes the diagnosis, other tests may be conducted to establish the underlying reasons for the condition to decide the best treatment option.

Treatment of Hydrops Fetalis

The treatment depends on the cause of hydrops fetalis, and if no evident cause is established, the doctor may suggest measures to ease the symptoms.

Fetal hydrops cannot be treated before the birth of the baby. In most cases, the doctor may opt for blood transfusion to increase the chances of a baby’s survival at birth. However, the doctor may even opt for early delivery. After the birth of the baby, here are some of the treatment options that your doctor may opt for your baby:

  • Use of medicines that may reduce the chances of heart failure.
  • Use of ventilators to give breathing support to the baby.
  • Use of medicines to help in getting rid of excess fluid from the kidneys.
  • Use of a needle to remove excess fluid around the heart, abdomen or lungs of the baby.

If the baby has immune hydrops, she could receive a red blood transfusion. However, if the hydrops is due to some other underlying issue, the doctor may use other ways of treatment. For example, if the baby develops syphilis, she can be given a course of antibiotics to treat the condition.

Complications Due to Delay in Treating Hydrops Fetalis

Severe swelling in babies’ internal organs can overwhelm the basic functioning of the organs. The hydrops fetalis survival rate is approximately 20 percent; therefore, if this condition is detected in babies, correct treatment measures must be taken at the earliest to increase the chances of successful pregnancy after hydrops. The complications that may arise if treatment is not done on time include:

  • The baby may have underdeveloped lungs because excess fluids and swollen organs may leave less space in the chest.
  • The baby may have higher chances of developing low blood sugar, which can put the baby at the risk of brain injuries or seizures.
  • The baby may develop respiratory distress or severe breathing difficulty.
  • The baby may be born prematurely because of excessive amniotic fluid.
  • The baby’s heart function or breathing may get affected because of excess fluid around the heart and the lungs.
  • In some cases, this condition may even result in fetal deaths.

The risk of the condition usually depends on the cause and where the fluid gets collected. Speak to your doctor to get proper guidance on caring for babies with hydrops and also to learn the best possible treatments for your baby.

Any kind of complication can be scary during pregnancy, and hydrops is undoubtedly a serious medical condition that can affect babies. Ensure you get regular check-ups and seek medical attention to manage and reduce the risk of complications that may arise due to hydrops fetalis.

Also Read:

Common Pregnancy Complications to Look Out For
Complications during Labour and Childbirth
Subchorionic Hematoma