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What is vasa previa and can it harm a baby?

Filed under: Birth Injuries

Vasa previa is an obstetrical complication where the blood vessels in the placenta go under the baby and cross the cervix.  As a very rare medical complication, the incidence of vasa previa ranges from 1 in 1275 to 1 in 8333 births.

The cause of vasa previa is unknown.  In cases where vasa previa is known, cesarean delivery is safer than vaginal delivery.  Prenatal diagnosis of vasa previa increases the fetal survival rate.  This is because vasa previa increases the risk of membrane rupture.  Vasa previa is relatively easy to detect with ultrasound and color Doppler.

Risk factors for vasa previa include:

  • Bilobed placenta

  • Low-lying placenta

  • Carrying multiples (twins, triplets, etc)

  • IVF pregnancies

  • Low insertion of the cord

  • Marginal or velamentous insertion of the cord

When the membranes rupture before delivery, the mother experiences painless vaginal bleeding.  If health care providers do not react quickly, the fetus can suffer shock or even death.  Cesarean delivery is usually used in cases where the membranes rupture.  In cases where the membranes do not rupture but are merely compressed, the fetus can experience fetal brachycardia (decrease in fetal heart rate).

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