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Can J Anaesth. 2001 Jan;48(1):88-98.

Amniotic fluid embolus: a review of the literature.

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Department of Anesthesia, Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



To review the literature since 1979 to determine the natural history, etiology, diagnosis and potential treatment of amniotic fluid embolus (AFE).


English language articles and books published between June 1976 and June 1998 were identified by a computerized medline search using the title or text word amniotic fluid embolus. This same search strategy was repeated and updated to October 1999 by an independent individual using both Medline and Embase. The search was also expanded to include Science Citation Index listing Morgan's 1979 review article. All relevant publications were retrieved and their bibliographies were scanned for additional sources.


Randomized controlled trials are not possible with amniotic fluid emboli. The majority of the literature consists of clinical reports combined with occasional limited reviews. Knowledge obtained from these reports suggests that amniotic fluid emboli present as a spectrum of disease that ranges from a subclinical entity to one that is rapidly fatal. Because cases are sporadic and the diagnosis is often unconfirmed, little progress has been made towards understanding its etiology or defining the risk factors. Present management is empirical and directed towards the maintenance of oxygenation, circulatory support and the correction of coagulopathy.


Amniotic fluid embolus continues to be a life-threatening but potentially reversible complication unique to pregnancy. It cannot be predicted nor prevented. Review of the literature reveals that there are no standardized investigational methods or protocols to confirm the diagnosis in suspected cases.

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