Children's Hospital Colorado
Colorado Fetal Care Center

Fetal Hydrops

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What is fetal hydrops?

Fetal hydrops, also called hydrops fetalis, or simply hydrops, is a serious condition in which a baby has two or more types of fluid buildup within their body while still inside the womb.

The types of fluid buildup may include:

  • Ascites: fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • Pericardial effusion: fluid around the heart
  • Pleural effusion: fluid around the lungs
  • Polyhydramnios: extra amniotic fluid (the fluid surrounding the baby in the womb)
  • Skin edema: fluid under the skin

What causes fetal hydrops?

Many things can cause fluid buildup leading to fetal hydrops, including:

  • Anatomic malformations
  • Cardiac dysfunction/heart failure
  • Fetal anemia (low levels of healthy red blood cells)
  • Genetic conditions
  • Infections
  • Immune dysfunction
  • Tumors

Who gets fetal hydrops? 

Any baby can get fetal hydrops. A family history of genetic issues can increase the chances of getting the condition. These issues can include metabolic disorders, skeletal abnormalities and other congenital conditions such as heart malformations. Mothers at risk for fetal anemia (a condition in which the child’s and mother’s blood types are not compatible) also raises the chances of their child getting hydrops.

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