Placental Insufficiency

Last Updated: May 16, 2018

Definition - What does Placental Insufficiency mean?

Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta, the organ that links mother and fetus, is damaged or dysfunctional. As a result, the placenta fails to transfer appropriate amounts of blood, oxygen, and nutrients from mother to fetus. This condition can cause abnormal fetal development and increases the risk of pre-mature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, and fetal mortality.

Placental insufficiency is also known as placental dysfunction.

FertilitySmarts explains Placental Insufficiency

The placenta is a complex organ, essential to the life and development of a fetus. The placenta first forms at the site of implantation, where the fertilized egg burrows into the wall of the endometrium. As the fetus grows, the placenta grows, the two connected by the umbilical cord. Blow flows from the mother to the fetus through the umbilical cord, transferring nutrients and oxygen to the fetus while removing carbon dioxide and waste. The placenta also serves as the fetus’ immune system, protecting it from bacteria and infections.

Placental insufficiency can be caused by a few conditions, behaviors, or lifestyle habits, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (preeclampsia)
  • Blood clot disorders
  • Drug use
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Placenta abruption, when the placenta breaks away from the uterine wall

There are no symptoms associated with placental insufficiency. Instead, developmental clues can lead to a diagnosis. Ultrasounds conducted throughout pregnancy evaluate the increasing size of the uterus, the fetus, and the placenta. Placental insufficiency often results in an abnormally small uterus and placenta that are observable on the scans. The condition is also marked by a reduced amount of blood in the mother’s body. Additionally, a mother may notice that her abdomen is smaller than average, and the baby is particularly inactive.

Placental insufficiency does not pose risks for most mothers. However, because it is associated with preterm labor, placental abruption, and preeclampsia, it can be very dangerous for a fetus. Risks to the baby include:

  • Oxygen deprivation at birth, leading to conditions such as cerebral palsy
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental disorders
  • Birth abnormalities
  • Premature labor
  • Cesarean delivery
  • Stillbirth
  • Death
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