The death of a formed fetus is one of the most emotionally devastating events for parents and clinicians. With improved care for conditions such as RhD alloimmunization, diabetes, and preeclampsia, the rate of fetal death in the United States decreased substantially in the mid twentieth century. However, the past several decades have seen much greater reductions in neonatal death rates than in fetal death rates. As such, fetal death remains a significant and understudied problem that now accounts for almost 50% of all perinatal deaths. The availability of prostaglandins has greatly facilitated delivery options for patients with fetal death. Risk factors for fetal death include African American race, advanced maternal age, obesity, smoking, prior fetal death, maternal diseases, and fetal growth impairment. There are numerous causes of fetal death, including genetic conditions, infections, placental abnormalities, and fetal–maternal hemorrhage. Many cases of fetal death do not undergo adequate evaluation for possible causes. Perinatal autopsy and placental examination are perhaps the most valuable tests for the evaluation of fetal death. Antenatal surveillance and emotional support are the mainstays of subsequent pregnancy management. Outcomes may be improved in women with diabetes, hypertension, red cell alloimmunization, and antiphospholipid syndrome. However, there is considerable room for further reduction in the fetal death rate.
Epidemiology, risk factors, causes, and clinical management of fetal death are reviewed.
From the 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Partially supported by HD-045944, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The author thanks Janice L. B. Byrne, MD, for the provision of figures.
Corresponding author: Robert M. Silver, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Utah School of Medicine, 30 North 1900 East, Room 2B308, Salt Lake City, UT 84132; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.