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Hydrops Fetalis

Hydrops fetalis is a condition in which abnormally large amounts of fluid buildup in 2 or more body areas of a fetus or newborn. This life-threatening condition is usually the symptom of an underlying medical condition. Cases of hydrops fetalis have dropped significantly due to RhoGAM, which is a drug used to treat pregnant mothers at risk of Rh incompatibility.
hydrops fetalis

What causes hydrops fetalis ?


There are two type of hydrops  fetalis and this classification depends on the cause of the abnormal fluid.


Immune hydrops fetalis : This is a complication of a severe form of Rh incompatibility. Rh incompatibility causes large amounts of fetal red blood cells to be destroyed. This leads to severe body swelling which can interfere with how body organs work.


Nonimmune hydrops fetalis :  This is when a medical condition interferes with the body’s ability to manage fluid. This is the more common type. The three main causes are :

  • heart or lung problems
  • genetic or developmental problems such as Turner’s syndrome
  • severe anemia eg from an infection or thalassemia


What are some of the symptoms associated with hydrops fetalis ?


Symptoms of this condition depends on the severity of the condition. Some of the symptoms include the following :

  • swelling in the liver
  • changes in skin color
  • severe jaundice
  • severe anemia
  • heart failure
  • breathing problems
  • purplish bruise-like spots on the skin
  • total body swelling


How is hydrops fetalis treated ?


Treatment depends on the cause. During pregnancy , treatment may include the following :

  • inducing of labor and delivery of baby
  • early c-section if the condition worsens
  • blood transfusion to the baby while in utero


Treatment once the baby is born includes the following :

  • medications to control heart failure and to enable the kidneys remove extra fluid
  • direct transfusion of red blood cells that match the infant’s blood type. An exchange transfusion may also be done to rid the baby’s body of the substances that are destroying the red blood cells
  • removing the extra fluid from around the lungs and the belly with a  needle
  • ways to help the baby breathe such as the use of a breathing machine


What is the effect of hydrops fetalis on my pregnancy or baby ?


Hydrops fetalis can cause a miscarriage or still birth. It can also cause brain damage called kernicterus in the baby.

Content Sources

Hydrops Fetalis. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Hydrops Fetalis. Boston Children’s Hospital. March 12, 2015

Hydrops fetalis/erythroblastosis fetalis. Children’s hospital of Wisconsin. Hydrops fetalis/erythroblastosis fetalis. Accessed March 12,, 2015.


January 25, 2021 | 4:44 31    By oohs N coos    

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