Deciphering Stillbirth: Common Causes and Tests
Hope in Research
Whether parents who have experienced stillbirth were given a reason for their babies’ deaths or not, many turn to scientific research for hope. They seek a promise that such a tragedy won’t happen again during a subsequent pregnancy, and that this mystery will be further explored so that the next generation will see stillbirth defeated.
Dr. Donald Dudley, MD, is the director of the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio. He says that when a baby is stillborn, the doctor feels a sense of failure and loss. “We are trained to do what we can to help women achieve a successful pregnancy with a happy outcome for parents and baby,” says Dr. Dudley. “Having a stillbirth is not what we want.”
That feeling of loss has led Dr. Dudley to participate in the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network (SCRN), one of the largest studies evaluating the causes of stillbirth with the most modern testing possible. “The study will be performed with contemporary control patients, that is, women who have live births,” shares Dr. Dudley.
The goal of the study, which is funded by the NICHD, is to develop a “rational diagnostic approach to women who suffer stillbirth so we can tell them why their stillbirth occurred,” Dr. Dudley adds.
Tests to Determine the Cause of Stillbirth
Although it’s hard for parents of a baby who was just stillborn to accept, an autopsy is a vitally important test. “The pathology doctors will evaluate all the organs of the baby to determine if any are abnormal,” explains Dr. Dudley. “Often, they can determine a distinct diagnosis of a specific disease or syndrome that can lead directly to the cause of the stillbirth and provide information on the risk to future pregnancies.”
Another important test is a culture and examination of the placenta, according to Douglas and Dr. Sussman: “the placenta should be examined for signs of infection and/or abnormalities that might have caused the stillbirth.”
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