A mother’s womb shields their fetus from the harsh realities of this world. Yet, in rare cases, certain dangers creep in. Though instances of fetal anemia seldom occur, when it does, the consequences can be life-threatening when left untreated. The red blood cells in our bodies carry hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that contains oxygen, to our tissues. When such red blood cells with the hemoglobin that provides oxygen to vital organs decrease in number within a fetus, fetal anemia sets in.
The Causes and Diagnosis
Isoimmunization, when the blood type of the mother and that of the fetus are incompatible, is the most common cause of fetal anemia. As a result, the mother’s immune system begins producing antibodies that harm the fetus’s red blood cells, thus causing the baby’s hemoglobin levels to drop. Other less common causes include viral infections. The parvovirus, for instance, interferes with the fetal blood marrow that produces red blood cells. Blood loss within the fetal circulatory system may also cause anemia.
Traces of fetal anemia can be detected through routine tests during pregnancy or tests specifically designed for fetal anemia. Usually, fetal anemia can be diagnosed through a simple prenatal ultrasound. But other common tests include:
Maternal blood testing: detects antibodies that can cause anemia
Amniocentesis: tests the amniotic fluid to identify how red blood cells are breaking down in the circulatory system of the fetus
Fetal blood sampling: tests blood in the umbilical cord
If fetal anemia is left untreated, it can be fatal. In fact, cardiac complications may arise resulting in an accumulation of fluid (hydrops) in the fetus’s body. Luckily, doctors and scientists have developed advanced multidisciplinary care for pregnant mothers and the babies they carry. When the anemia is mild, simple monitoring is sufficient to treat patients. But in severe cases, blood transfusions for the infant may be necessary. In order to complete this procedure, blood is transfused into the umbilical vein with the use of a needle.
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