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J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2006 May;19(5):289-94.

Fetal acidemia and electronic fetal heart rate patterns: is there evidence of an association?

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Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of California San Francisco, CA 94143-0132, USA.



Despite the ubiquity of electronic fetal monitoring, the validity of the relationship between various fetal heart rate (FHR) patterns and fetal acidemia has not yet been established in a large unselected series of consecutive pregnancies. The aim of this study was to examine the published literature for evidence of such a relationship.


Four hypotheses based on assumptions in common clinical use were examined. The literature was searched for relationships between certain aspects of FHR patterns (e.g., degree of FHR variability, depth of decelerations), and fetal acidemia, or fetal vigor (5-minute Apgar score >or=7). We also attempted to relate duration of these patterns to the degree of acidemia. Using standardized FHR nomenclature we defined patterns based on baseline FHR variability, baseline rate, decelerations, and accelerations.


The following relationships were observed: (1) Moderate FHR variability was strongly associated (98%) with an umbilical pH >7.15 or newborn vigor (5-minute Apgar score >or=7). (2) Undetectable or minimal FHR variability in the presence of late or variable decelerations was the most consistent predictor of newborn acidemia, though the association was only 23%. (3) There was a positive relationship between the degree of acidemia and the depth of decelerations or bradycardia. (4) Except for sudden profound bradycardia, newborn acidemia with decreasing FHR variability in combination with decelerations develops over a period of time approximating one hour. Most studies identified were observational and uncontrolled (grade III evidence of US Preventive Services Task Force); however, there was general agreement amongst the various studies, strengthening the validity of the observations.


The validity of the relationship between certain FHR patterns and fetal acidemia and/or vigor, is supported by observations from the literature. In addition four assumptions commonly used in clinical management are supported. These conclusions need to be confirmed by a prospective examination of a large number of consecutive, unselected FHR patterns, and their relationship to newborn acidemia. Pending the completion of such studies, these observations can be used to justify certain aspects of current clinical management, and may assist in standardizing the diversity of opinions regarding FHR pattern management.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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