Hydrops fetalis is severe swelling (edema) in an unborn baby or a newborn baby. It
is a life-threatening problem. There are 2 types: immune and nonimmune.
There are 2 types of hydrops fetalis. The type that a baby has will
depend on the cause.
This type of hydrops is not very
common. It may develop because of Rh disease in the mother. If you are Rh negative
and have an Rh positive baby, your immune system attacks your unborn baby’s red blood
cells. This causes anemia. Hydrops can occur if the developing baby’s organs can’t
overcome the anemia. The heart starts to fail. Large amounts of fluid build up in
baby’s tissues and organs. This type of hydrops is not common today because Rh
negative women are often treated with Rh immunoglobulin to prevent this problem.
This is the more common type of hydrops. This type includes all other diseases or
complications that may interfere with how your baby manages fluid. Some of the diseases
or conditions that can cause nonimmune hydrops include:
- Severe anemia
- Infections present before
- Heart or lung defects
- Chromosomal abnormalities and birth
- Liver disease
- Twin to twin transfusion
Symptoms can be different for each
child. Below are the most common symptoms of hydrops.
During pregnancy, symptoms may include:
- Large amounts of amniotic fluid
- Thickened placenta
- Ultrasound of the unborn baby that shows enlarged liver, spleen, or heart. It may
show a fluid buildup around the baby’s abdominal organs, heart, or lungs.
After birth, symptoms may include:
- Pale coloring
- Severe swelling overall, especially in the baby’s belly (abdomen)
- Trouble breathing
- Enlarged liver and spleen
Many of these may be caused by
other health problems. Hydrops is almost always diagnosed during pregnancy or right
Before birth, your baby may need
Ultrasound.This test uses sound waves to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and
organs. The healthcare provider will use the ultrasound to look at how your baby’s
internal organs are working. The provider can see how blood flows through different
This is done by placing a needle through your uterus and
into 1 of your baby’s blood vessels or the umbilical cord.
Amniocentesis. This test is done by removing some of the amniotic
fluid around your baby for testing.
Treatment of hydrops depends on the cause. During pregnancy, hydrops may be treatable
only in certain cases. You may need to deliver your baby early. In a newborn baby,
treatment may include:
- Help for breathing problems. This may
be with extra oxygen or a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Removing extra fluid from spaces
around the lungs, heart, or inside the belly using a needle
- Fetal blood transfusion may be used with immune hydrops.
The severe swelling that occurs with hydrops can overwhelm the baby’s organ systems.
About 50% of unborn babies with hydrops don’t survive. Risks for other problems are
also high for babies born with hydrops. Survival often depends on the cause and treatment.
- Hydrops fetalis is severe swelling
(edema) in an unborn baby or a newborn baby. It is a life-threatening problem.
- Hydrops develops when too much fluid
leaves the baby’s blood and goes into the tissues.
- It is almost always diagnosed during pregnancy or right at
- Treatment of hydrops depends on the
- About 50% of unborn babies with
hydrops don’t survive.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.