By James Girards

In a new NIH-funded study published in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging on November 4, 2019, a new imaging technique to evaluate or monitor blood flow to the human placenta reveals the potential to help recognize worrisome complications in early pregnancy. Researchers used a special MRI technique to identify women with reduced placental blood flow who later developed one or more complications. The technique was able to identify when the maternal blood vessels failed to widen adequately leaving the fetus at risk for decreased blood flow and several common complications that can result from that state. Sixty-nine participants were scanned at two points early in their pregnancies; 15-participants who were later diagnosed with ischemic placentas were shown to have decreased blood flow on each scan.

Additional studies are to be performed. If they confirm these results, it is expected that this technique may be useful in managing patients at high-risk for decreased intrauterine blood flow.

Decreased placental blood flow is a serious condition associated with pre-eclampsia, placental abruption, and intrauterine growth restriction. It can result in low blood flow to the developing fetus and can result in damage to the brain.

Frequently, lawyers for hospitals and physicians when faced with a lawsuit for failure to properly manage a labor and delivery resulting in a severely injured newborn will claim falsely that the child was actually injured during gestation by an ischemic placenta - even without evidence that complication actually occurred. In the future, it is expected that imaging techniques like that described in this new study will afford an opportunity to determine with reasonable likelihood whether such a condition exists during pregnancy in high-risk patients and affording an opportunity for therapy or management to ameliorate the harm associated with this condition. It is also expected to provide clarity during the risk management or litigation process in appropriate cases that will allow parents, hospitals, and the lawyers and insurers to make informed decisions about resolution of claims.

The study is available at this link:

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