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Definition Return to top
Hydrops fetalis is a serious condition in which abnormal amounts of fluid build up in two or more body areas of a fetus or newborn.
See also: Erythroblastosis fetalis
Causes Return to top
There are two types of hydrops fetalis: Immune and nonimmune. The exact cause depends on which form a baby has.
The number of babies who develop immune hydrops fetalis has dramatically decreased since the introduction of the medicine RhoGAM, which is used to treat pregnant mothers at risk for Rh incompatibility.
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition. Mild forms may cause:
More severe forms may cause:
Exams and Tests Return to top
An ultrasound done during pregnancy may show:
An amniocentesis and frequent ultrasounds will be done to determine the severity of the condition.
Treatment Return to top
Treatment depends on the cause. During pregnancy, treatment may include:
Treatment for a newborn may include:
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Hydrops fetalis often results in death of the infant shortly before or after delivery. The risk is highest among the most premature babies and those who are severely ill at birth.
Possible Complications Return to top
A form of central nervous system damage called kernicterus may occur.
Prevention Return to top
Rh incompatibility, which can lead to this condition, can be prevented if the mother takes a medicine called RhoGAM at certain times during and after pregnancy.
References Return to top
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.
Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 7th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2005.Update Date: 6/1/2009 Updated by: Daniel Rauch, MD, FAAP, Director, Pediatric Hospitalist Program, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.