Hydrops fetalis is a serious condition. It occurs when abnormal amounts of fluid buildup in two or more body areas of a fetus or newborn. It is a symptom of underlying problems.
There are two types of hydrops fetalis -- immune and nonimmune. The type depends on the cause of the abnormal fluid.
The number of babies who develop immune hydrops fetalis has dropped due to a medicine called RhoGAM. This drug is used to treat pregnant mothers at risk for Rh incompatibility.
Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition. Mild forms may cause:
More severe forms may cause:
An ultrasound done during pregnancy may show:
An amniocentesis and frequent ultrasounds will be done to determine the severity of the condition.
Treatment depends on the cause. During pregnancy, treatment may include:
Treatment for a newborn may include:
Hydrops fetalis often results in death of the infant shortly before or after delivery. The risk is highest for babies born very early or who are ill at birth.
Brain damage called kernicterus may occur.
Rh incompatibility can be prevented if the mother takes a medicine called RhoGAM during and after pregnancy.
Abrams ME, Meredith KS, Kinnard P, Clark RH. Hydrops fetalis: a retrospective review of cases reported to a large national database and identification of risk factors associated with death. Pediatrics. 2007 Jul;120(1):84-9.
Bellini C, Hennekam RCM, Fulcheri E, Rutigliani M, Morcaldi G, Boccardo F, Bonioli E. 2009. Etiology of nonimmune hydrops fetalis: A systematic review. Am J Med Genet Part A 149A:844–851.
Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC, Fausto N, Perkins JA. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 8th ed. Chapters 10 and 14 Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.; 2009.
Updated by: Kimberly G Lee, MD, MSc, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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