The material contained in medical records and research materials usually contains words that are unfamiliar and new. The Cerebral Palsy Glossary contains definitions of terms and acronyms that are commonly associated with cerebral palsy.


Aberrant - Posture or movement that deviates from the norm; also used to describe “jerky” movements

Abnormal Position - Any position in labor where the fetus is not face-down, turned toward the mother’s back. Abnormal positions include: breech (feet first), transverse lie (sideways), brow, and face. Babies born in an abnormal position have a higher risk of acquiring neurological disorders, including cerebral palsy

ABO Blood Type Incompatibility - A condition where the blood type of the fetus doesn’t match the blood type of the mother. In some cases, ABO Blood Type Incompatibility can be a risk factor for cerebral palsy

Abruptio Placentae (also Placental Abruption) - Premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall

Abruption - See above definition for Abruptio Placentae, Placental Abruption, iterplacental apolplexy or Couvelaire uterus

Acidemia - Increased acidity of the blood. Acidemia cannot occur without acidosis. Symptoms of both conditions include nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Acidosis - Increased acidity in the blood, caused either by excessive acid production or a depletion of bicarbonates (alkaline reserves).

Alkali Reserve - The sum total of the basic ions of the blood and other bodily fluids that act as buffers and maintain the normal pH of the blood (Source: American Heritage Medical Dictionary)

Alkalosis - The opposite of acidosis; a condition where the body fluids have too much base. Symptoms of alkalosis include: confusion, muscle twitching, nausea, and lightheadedness.

AFI (Amniotic Fluid Index) - A method of measuring the amount of amniotic fluid during pregnancy. Normal measurements are between 5 and 25 cm. The AFI also serves as a rough index for the fetus’s well-being.

Albumin - A type of protein made by the liver, that helps moves small molecules through the blood. Albumin also prevents the blood’s fluid from leaking into tissues

Allergen - A foreign substance that causes an allergy

Amnion (also called Amniotic sac) - A thin, fluid-filled sac that contains the embryo or fetus. Amnions are suspended in the uterus.

Amniotomy - The intentional rupture of the amniotic sac, in order to induce or accelerate labor. Amniotomies are usually painless.

Analgesia (also called Epidural Analgesia) - The relief of pain without a loss of consciousness. In childbirth, an anesthetic solution (“epidural”) is injected into the spine in order to reduce pain, while the mother remains conscious.

Anemia - A condition in which the body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells. (Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.) Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness and fatigue.

Anemic Hypoxia - A reduction of oxygen supply to the brain (“hypoxia”), as a result of anemia. Hypoxia can puts infants at a higher risk of getting CP.

Anergy - An extreme lack of energy; also can mean a failed reaction to an injected allergen or antigen

Antibody - A protein produced in the blood or tissues in response to a specific antigen. Antibodies destroy and weaken poisons; thereby giving the body immunity.

Antigen - A substance that stimulates the immune system to manufacture antibodies

Apgar Score - A system used to evaluate a newborn’s physical condition upon birth. The system assigns a value (0, 1, or 2) to each of five criteria: heart rate, muscle tone, respiratory effort, response to stimuli, and color. The higher the score, the better. The Apgar Score was developed by American physician Virginia Apgar.

Arrhythmia - An irregularity in the rhythm of the heartbeat. Also could be an irregularity in a heartbeat’s force.

Artery - A tubular, elastic vessel which carries blood away from the heart and through the body

Asphyxia - A lack of oxygen to the brain during birth (severe hypoxia), which in severe cases can cause cerebral palsy.

Aspirate - To remove fluid from a body cavity, either using a needle or suction device

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy - A type of cerebral palsy characterized by “tremors,” or prolonged shaky movements. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy often walk unsteadily, and set their feet unusually far apart. Those with ataxic CP (about 5 - 10  percent of all cases) also have trouble holding small objects.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy - A type of cerebral palsy marked by involuntary, uncontrolled movements, especially in the face, arms and hips. These writhing movements often interfere with speaking, feeding, grasping, and other motor skills. Children with athetoid CP (about 10 percent of all CP cases) also have low muscle tone and tend to have problems sitting and walking.

Avulsion - The forcible tearing away of a body part by accident, or by surgery.

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Base Excess - The amount of strong acid that must be added to each liter of fully oxygenated blood, in order to return the pH level to 7.40. Too much base case indicate alkalosis. Balanced blood levels should have roughly equal levels of acid and base.

Basal Ganglia (Singular: Ganglion) - Deeply-placed masses of gray matter within each cerebral hemisphere. The basal ganglia are associated with a variety of functions, including voluntary motor control and eye movements.

Baseline - In medicine, a known quantity or value, used to measure against an unknown.

Biophysical Profile - A test that measures the health of a fetus in the final trimester of pregnancy. The biophysical profile (BPP) measures five components of fetal health, including: heart rate, muscle tone, movement, breathing, and the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.

Birth Canal - The channel through which the fetus is expelled during birth. The birth canal leads from the uterus through the cervix, vagina and vulva.

Birth Trauma - The physical (or possibly emotional) shock that an infant experiences while being born.

Bradycardia - An abnormally slow heart rate; usually less than 50 beats per minute.

Breech Presentation - A condition in which a baby enters the birth canal with buttocks or feet first.

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Cardiac Reserve - The work that the heart is able to perform beyond what is required of it in ordinary circumstances

Cephalad - toward the head; away from the end of the body

Cephalic - Located on, in or near the head

Cerebellum - The part of the brain that coordinates movement, walking and balance. The cerebellum is located on the back of the brainstem.

Cerebral Palsy - A neurological disability caused by the abnormal development of, or damage to, motor areas of the brain. Indicators of cerebral palsy include muscular incoordination and speech disturbances. Types of cerebral palsy include spastic, ataxic and athetoid.

Chronic - Of a long duration. Used to describe slowly-progressing diseases and disorders.

Complete Blood Count (CBC) - A routine blood test used for many medical reasons. A CBC measures a combination of totals from the red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and the amount of hemoglobin (a blood protein that carries oxygen).

Congenital - Conditions that are present at birth or acquired during uterine development.

Contraction - 1. A shortening (tensing) of a muscle 2. Rhythmic tightening of the uterus during pregnancy, which causes a drop in blood and oxygen supplies to the fetus. Uterine contractions usually occur during late labor, and can last as long as 1 minute.

Contraction Stress Test (CST) - A test performed near the end of pregnancy to determine if the fetus will stay healthy during labor. A CST makes sure a fetus will survive the oxygen loss due to contractions. During the test, the hormone oxytocin is delivered intravenously, in order to stimulate contractions. A test involving nipple stimulation may also be used.

Corpus Callosum - A connecting band of nerve tissue in the brain, that joins the cerebral hemispheres.

CPD (Cephalopelvic Disproportion) - A condition in which the baby’s head is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis.

CPK (Creatine Phosphokinase) - An enzyme found mainly in the heart, brain and skeletal tissue. When the total CPK level is very high, it usually means there’s been ian injury to the heart, brain or muscle tissue. For example, when a muscle is damaged, CPK leaks into the bloodstream. Determining which type of CPK is present helps doctors determine which exact tissue has been damaged.

Creatine Kinase - An enzyme usually found in the brain, that tends to indicate injury when levels are high.

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Deceleration - a decrease in rate or speed.

Early Deceleration - A periodic decrease in the fetus’s heart rate, due to the onset of a contraction.

Late Deceleration - A periodic heart rate decrease that occurs at or after the peak of a contraction. Late deceleration may indicate fetal hypoxia.

Variable Deceleration - A heart rate decrease that usually indicates compression of the umbilical cord. Variable decelerations may occur at any time in relation to a contraction.

Dystonia - A hereditary movement disorder. Dystonia is marked by irregular and involuntary contortions that result in the body writing and twisting in unusual positions.

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Eclampsia - The most serious form of pregnancy-induced hypertension. Eclampsia is characterized by seizures, coma and edema (a condition of abnormally large fluid volume in the circulatory system). It usually occurs very late in pregnancy, or immediately following labor.

Effacement - Shortening of the uterine cervix as it’s dilated during labor. Also could mean thinning of the uterine walls.

EFM - Electronic Fetal Monitoring - A method of fetal heart monitoring that is non-invasive, and is done through the skin. The mother sits with her knees and back partially elevated, with a cushion under her right hip so that her uterus is shifted to the left. Electrodes placed on the skin can detect the fetal heart rate, as well as the presence and duration of uterine contractions. EFM allows the health care provider to see if the baby is experiencing fetal distress, and how the baby’s tolerating contractions.

Encephalopathy - A degeneration of brain function.

Endometrium - The mucous membrane that lines the uterus. In order to develop into an embryo, a fertilized egg must first embed itself in the endometrium.

Ependyma - The membrane lining the ventricles of the brain, as well as the central canal of the spinal cord.

Epidural Analgesia (See Analgesia).

Episiotomy - Surgical incision of the perineum during late stages of childbirth, in order to facilitate delivery. Can result in serious tearing and/or sexual dysfunction.

Epithelium - Membranous tissue covering internal organs and other internal surfaces of the body.

External Fetal Monitoring; see also “EFM” - An electronic method of fetal monitoring that’s designed to detect a baby’s heart rate, as well as trace uterine contractoins. External fetal monitoring uses a small ultrasound disc, held in place by a stretchable band.

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Fetal Asphyxia - A condition in which the fetus experiences an extreme lack of oxygen, resulting in hypoxia. Often occurs a result of compression of the umbilical cord.

Fetal Heart Monitoring; see also “deceleration” - Electronic monitoring performed during pregnancy, labor and delivery to keep track of the fetus’s heart rate. The procedure can be done with monitors outside the body (external monitoring), or in the uterus (internal monitoring).

Fetal Hypoxia - A condition in which the fetus experiences a severe deprivation of oxygen. Possible causes include inadequate placental function (see “abruptio placentae”), compression of the umbilical cord, and complications from anesthesia.

Fetal Inflammatory Response Syndrome (FIRS) - A condition characterized by increased levels of plasma in the fetus’s blood. FIRS could be an indicator of future development of cerebral palsy.

Fetal-Maternal Erythrocyte Distribution Test - A test used to measure the number of fetal red blood cells in a pregnant woman’s blood. The test checks to see if the baby and mother are “Rh incompatible.” Rh incompatibility occurs when the fetus has Rh - positive blood and the pregnant woman has Rh-negative blood. If a mother and baby are Rh incompatible, the mother’s body is producing antibodies that could harm the fetus’s red blood cells. Treatment of Rh incompatibility is usually very effective, due to a special injection called “RhoGAM.”

First Stage of Labor (See “Stages of Labor”)

Fourth Stage of Labor (See “Stages of Labor”)

Fundus - The base of an organ, or the part farthest away from its opening. Examples include: the lower back part of the bladder, the part of the eye opposite the pupil, and the large upper end of the uterus.

Forcep - A surgical instrument resembling a pair of pincers or tongs, used for grasping and extracting during delivery.

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Galea Aponeurotica - A tough layer of dense tissue which covers the upper part of the cranium.

Gestation - The development of a fetus from conception until birth; pregnancy.

Glucose - The principal circulating sugar in the blood, and the major energy source of the body.

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Hematocrit - 1. The percentage by volume of red blood cells in a given sample of blood, after it has been spun in a centrifuge. A hematocrit ranging from 42-52 % in males and 35-47% in females is typically considered normal. 2. A centrifuge used to determine the relative volumes of blood cells and plasma in a sample of blood (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary).

Hemoglobin - An iron-containing pigment of red blood cells that caries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body.

HIE (Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy) - Damage to cells in the central nervous system that occurs when the entire brain is deprived of an adequate oxygen supply. Newborn HIE might result in cerebral palsy, though research in this area is still inconclusive.

Hypertension - Abnormally high blood pressure, usually indicated by a systolic pressure of 140 or greater, and a diastolic pressure of 90 or more. Hypertension is a risk factor for various conditions, including heart failure, end-stage renal disease, and retinal hemorrhage.

Hypertonic - 1. Having extreme muscle tone or tension 2. (Chemistry) Having a higher osmotic pressure than a surrounding medium.

Hypotension - Abnormally low blood pressure.

Hypovolemia - A blood disorder consisting of a decrease in the volume of circulating blood.

Hypoxia - A pronounced deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues.

Hypoxia - Ischemia (H/I) - Insufficient blood supply in tissues as a result of inadequate blood supplies.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (See “HIE”)

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Idiopathic Respiratory Distress of Newborn (RDS) - A condition commonly seen in premature infants whose lungs have not fully developed. If not treated correctly, RDS can result in delayed mental development. Breathing machines can often be lifesaving for infants with RDS.

Induction - The act of causing or bringing about labor, often using the drug oxytocin.

Inferior Vena Cava (See “Vena Cava”)

Internal Fetal Monitoring - The process of inserting two electronic catheters through the vagina and cervix to measure a fetus’s vital signs. One of the catheters is attached to the baby’s scalp in order to measure the fetal heart rate; the second is placed between the fetus and the wall of the uterus, and measures the rate and intensity of uterine contractions.

Intracranial hemorrhage - Bleeding within the cranium; somewhat common among preterm infants.

Intrapartum - Occurring during labor and delivery.

Ischemia - An insufficient supply of blood to an organ, usually due to a blocked artery. Often occurs in babies as a result of contractions.

Ischemic - Used to describe a decrease in blood supply to a bodily organ; related to or affected by ischemia.

Ischial Spine - A thin pointed triangular bone that projects backward from the ischium.

Ischium - The lowest of three major bones that constitute each half of the pelvis.

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Labia Majora - Two long “lips” of skin, one on each side of the vaginal orifice, that form the boundaries of the vulva.

Labia Minora - Two thin folds of skin between the labia majora on either side of the urethral and vaginal openings.

Labium - Any of the four folds of tissue of the external female genitalia.

Labor - The physical efforts by a woman to expel a fetus and its placenta from the uterus during delivery. Labor includes a prolonged period of involuntary uterine contractions.

Late Deceleration - A decrease in the fetal heart rate, which may indicate hypoxia. Also may indicate inadequate blood flow through the placenta.

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Malpresentation - An abnormal position of the fetus in the birth canal; presentation of a part other than the back of the head during delivery.

Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration (MCHC) - The average concentration of hemoglobin in a red blood cell.

Meconium - The first stools to be discharged from the bowels of a newborn infant; usually greenish in color and consisting of mucus and bile. Meconium tests can establish whether or not excessive alcohol was consumed by the mother.

Medulla - The central or inner core of a body part, such as the marrow of bone. Also called medullary substance.

Microcephaly - Abnormal smallness of the head. Either congenital, or present in the first few years of life. Children with microcephaly often have developmental issues.

Morbid Obesity - The condition of weighing at least 100 pounds over ideal body weight.

Moro Reflex - A primitive reflex that is present up to three or four months of age. Movements include fanning and clenching of fingers or raising the head slightly in response to a sudden noise.

Multiparity - 1. Giving birth to two or more children at once 2. The condition of being a mother to two or more children.

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Neonatal - Recently born; pertaining to an infant’s first month of life.

Nomogram - A graph on which a number of variables are plotted so that the values of any two variables can be used to find the values of others.

Non-Stress Test (NST) - A simple, non invasive test performed in the third trimester to monitor a fetus’s heart rate. One belt is attached to the mother’s abdomen to measure the heart rate; and another is attached to measure contractions. The test is usually performed for 20-30 minutes. (Source: American Pregnancy Association).

Nucleated Red Blood Cells - See ”Timing Intrauterine Hypoxic Stress

Nullipara - A woman who has never given birth.

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Obesity (See also Morbid Obesity) - An abnormal accumulation of body fat; usually 20% or more for men and 25% or more for women.

Oxytocin Challenge Test (See also Contraction Stress Test) -  A stress test performed in the third trimester to see how a baby deals with stress of contractions. During the test, contractions are simulated by an intravenous infusion of oxytocin. (Source: Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary).

Oligohydramnios - A deficiency in the amount of amniotic fluid, usually caused by an fetus swallowing more than usual.

Oximeter - A device used to measure oxygen levels in the blood.

Oximetry - Measurement of oxygen in the blood using an oximeter.

Oxytocin - A hormone that stimulates both contractions, and the production of breast milk - also called alpha-hypophamine.

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Parturition - The process of labor and giving birth to a child.

Perinatal - The period around childbirth, especially the five months before and one month after birth (Source: American Heritage Medical Dictionary).

Perineum - The area between the anus and posterior part of the external genitalia.

pH - A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, using a scale of 14. (A pH of 7.0 is neutral.) Numbers below 7 indicate acidity, while numbers above 7 indicate alkalinity. Blood pH is slightly alkaline, with a normal range of 7.36 - 7.44. (Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine).

Pitocin - A liquid medication that’s a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin; most often used to induce labor by IV drip.

Placenta - The organ connecting the fetus and the mother. Blood from the fetus and mother do not directly mix, but the placental membrane allows the fetus to absorb nutrients and oxygen from the mother. Waste from the fetus exits through the placenta
(Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine).

Placental Abruption (see “Abruptio placentae”) Also referred to as: abruption, uteroplacental apoplexy or Couvelaire uterus, is a condition that can harm mother and baby when the placenta begins to pull away from the uterus too soon.  Placental abruption may be responsible for a disruption in the amount of oxygen and nutrition delivered to the baby thereby causing or contributing to the development of cerebral palsy.

Placenta Previa - An abnormal condition in pregnancy, where the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix, and is located low in the uterus.

Ponderal Index (PI) - A measurement of relative body mass; calculated as weight divided by height, raised by 100.

Preeclampsia - A condition in pregnancy in which high blood pressure and protein in the urine develop after the 20th week. Symptoms also include a sudden rise in blood pressure, excessive weight gain, and severe headaches.

Prenatal - Before birth; care of a pregnant woman before delivery.

Progesterone - 1. A steroid hormone secreted by the placenta, that acts to prepare the uterus for the implementation of a fertilized egg. 2. In synthetic form, progesterone is used in oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and in the treatment of various gynecologic disorders.

Pronate (Pronation) - 1. To turn the palm downwards so that the palm faces down or back 2. To turn or rotate the sole of the foot so that the inner edge of the sole bears the body’s weight 3. To turn or rotate a limb so that the inner surfaces faces down or back (Source: Heritage Medical Dictionary).

Pubic Symphysis - The slightly moveable interpubic joint of the pelvis, consisting of two pubic bones separated by a disk of fibrocartilage and connected by two ligaments (Source: Mosby’s Medical Dictionary).

Pulmonary Vein - The vein that returns blood from the lower lobe of the left lung, to the left atrium of the heart.

Pulse Oximetry - A device that determines the oxygen saturation of the blood of an anesthetized patient. The device uses a sensor attached to a finger, yields a computerized readout, and sounds an alarm if blood saturation becomes less than optimal.

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Regional - Pertaining to a certain region of the body, or bodily organ; i.e., “regional” anesthesia.

Reserve - 1. To hold back or set aside for future use 2. A supply which may be used in an emergency (See also: Alkali Reserve, Cardiac Reserve).

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) - See “Idiopathic Respiratory Distress of Newborn

Reticulocyte Count - A measure of the percentage of reticulocytes (slightly immature red blood cells) in the blood.

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Second Stage of Labor (See “Stages of Labor”)

Seizure - 1. The sudden attack or recurrence of a disease 2. A convulsion, or attack of epilepsy caused by an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.

Serous Membrane - One of the many thin sheets of tissue that line the closed cavities of the body, covering the organs that lie within that cavity.

Singleton - A baby born alone; one baby.

Sinusoid - 1. Any of the venous cavities through which blood passes in various glands and organs (Source: American Heritage Medical Dictionary) 2. Related to or shaped like a sine wave. (A sine wave is a smooth, repetitive wave).

Spastic Cerebral Palsy - The most common form of cerebral palsy; marked by hypertonic (very toned) muscles, and stiff and jerky movements.

Stages of Labor (See also “Labor”) - The four stages of labor. The first stage, usually the longest, begins when the cervic starts to open, and ends when it’s completely open (dilated). Blood-tinged mucus is passed from the vagina. Near the end of this stage, contractions become longer and stronger. The second stage involves the actual birth of the baby, and may last as long as three hours - especially during a first birth. The third stage begins when the baby is born, and ends after the expulsion of the placenta. Contractions continue into the third stage. The fourth stage lasts approximately 15 minutes, and includes temporary bodily changes after delivery.

Superior Vena Cava (See “Vena Cava”)

Symphysis - 1. A type of joint in which the apposed bony surfaces are united by a plate of fibrocartilage 2. A union or meeting point between two structures.

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Tachycardia - Abnormally rapid heart rate, especially above 100 beats per minute. Tachycardia is one of two types of arrhythmia.

Tetanus - An acute, often fatal disease that’s characterized by spasmodic contraction of voluntary muscles, especially those in the neck and jaw. Tetanus is usually caused by bacteria that enters through the body at an infected wound. (Source: American Heritage Medical Dictionary)

Thalamus - A large oval area of gray matter within the brain that relays nerve impulses from the basal ganglia to the cerebellum. Both parts of the brain control and regulate muscle movement. (Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine)

Third Stage of Labor (See “Stages of Labor”)

Thrombosis - The formation of a blood clot (“thrombus”) that either blocks or partially blocks a blood vessel.

Traction - A sustained, mechanic pull to treat muscular and skeletal disorders. Traction attempts to accomplish several things, including the alignment of the ends of a fracture, a termination of muscle spasms, and the relief of pain. There are many specialized forms of traction.

Type 1 Dip - Early deceleration at the with the peak of contractions.

Type 2 Dip - Late deceleration of the fetal heart rate; 30 seconds or more after the peak of contractions (See Fetal Heart Monitoring)

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Ultrasound - A non-invasive procedure based on changes in sound wave frequency above the range of normal human hearing. In prenatal care, ultrasounds form a two-dimensional image of the fetus and the mother’s surrounding body organs.

Urethra - A passageway that carries urine aware from the bladder.

Uterotonic - Increasing the tone of the uterine muscle.

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VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) - A vaginal birth taking place after a woman’s already had a C-section. Though rare, there is a risk that a previous C-section scar could come open during labor. VBACs are only offered by hospitals that can do a rapid emergency C-section.

Vacuum Extraction - Removal of the contents of the uterus by application of a vacuum extractor. Used in both abortions, and deliveries of viable fetuses .

Vaginal Vestibule - The space between the labia minora containing the openings of the vagina and urethra. (Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine)

Vein - A tubular vessel that carries blood from the capillaries toward the heart. All veins except the pulmonary vein carry dark blood (due to reduced levels of hemoglobin).

Vena Cava - One of two large veins that drains directly into the heart after gathering incoming blood from the entire body. The inferior vena cava is the largest vein in the human body, and returns blood to the right atrium of the heart from body parts below the diaphragm. The superior vena cava is the second-largest vein in the human body, and returns blood to the right atrium of the heart from the upper half of the body.

Ventricle - A small cavity or chamber in the brain or heart.

Vertex Presentation - Normal obstetric presentation, in which the “presenting” body part of the fetus is the top of the head.

Vestibule - A space or cavity at the entrance to a canal. See also Vaginal Vestibule.

Viremia - The presence of viruses in the blood.

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