When fetal growth restrictions go undetected during pregnancy, risk of stillbirth increases dramatically. Researchers recently published a study in the online version of BMJ claiming earlier detection could reduce the risk of stillbirths in the United Kingdom (UK), but the implications of the study could be used across the world.

Rates of stillbirths in the UK are higher than any other developed nation. Doctors have often considered these stillbirths unavoidable as no clear cause has been detected. Researchers now believe keeping a closer eye on fetal growth could help predict potential risk for stillbirth and, with further research, lead to a possible treatment that could reduce the number of stillbirths in the UK only by more than 600 per year.

Data was collected from NHS records in the UK. More than 92,000 singleton births were included in the study. About 390 of the infants were stillbirths after the 24th week of gestation. The stillbirth rate was 4.2 per 1,000. Researchers took risk factors associated with stillbirths into consideration. Risk factors included maternal age, hypertension, smoking, mental health and fetal growth issues. Ethnicity and socioeconomic status were also taken into consideration.

Researchers noticed an increase in stillbirths among certain ethnicities and lower-income women tended to experience stillbirths more often than higher –income, but these factors were already associated with increased risk of stillbirths and cannot be affected by medical intervention.

More than half of all stillbirths were associated with smoking, obesity and fetal growth restriction. When fetal growth restriction was isolated as an independent variable it accounted for the largest risk factor of stillbirth. When fetal growth restriction was not recognized in prenatal care, the risk of stillbirth increased eight times. More than 30% of the stillbirths in the study were attributed to undetected fetal growth restriction.

Researchers estimated that about 70 of the stillbirths in the study could have been prevented with early detection. That accounts for more than 600 stillbirths each year in the UK. Early detection of fetal growth restriction is crucial to preventing stillbirths.

Source: Jason Gardosi, Vichithranie Madurasinghe, Mandy Williams, Asad Malik, André Francis. Maternal and fetal risk factors for stillbirth: population based study. BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f108.

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