A noninvasive pulsed Doppler ultrasound technique was used to characterize blood flow in the descending thoracic aorta and the intra-abdominal part of the umbilical vein in 159 fetuses suspected of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) on the basis of ultrasound fetometry. From this group, 74 infants with IUGR (defined as gestational age-related birth weight of 2 standard deviations [SD] or more below the population mean) were born. The blood flow results were not available to the clinicians managing the pregnancies. Blood flow mean velocity in the fetal aorta was lower, pulsatility index and rising slope higher, and umbilical volume flow and umbilical flow per 100 g placental tissue were lower in the pregnancies with IUGR than in 21 normal pregnancies. The waveform of the maximum aortic velocity envelope was related to operative delivery for fetal distress, Apgar score, and umbilical cord blood pH. The pulsatility index and the configurational assessment of the diastolic part of the waveform were combined to form a new concept, the blood flow class. The blood flow class was abnormal in 57% of the fetuses classified as having IUGR at birth and in 93% of those growth-retarded fetuses who subsequently developed signs of fetal distress requiring operative delivery. Waveform analysis, in terms of blood flow class, seems to be a useful tool in the surveillance of fetuses when IUGR is suspected. Abnormal blood flow class is a marker of fetal distress and probably gives an earlier indication than antenatal nonstressed cardiotocography. The results of this study point to a strong association between IUGR and impaired fetal blood flow. The aortic volume blood flow, unlike waveform analysis, does not seem to be a variable sensitive enough to predict fetal outcome in the individual pregnancy.
© 1987 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists