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Babies born to native high-altitude mothers have decreased risk of low birth weight
Date:5/17/2009

s pronounced in the Andean women, who have adapted genetically to the high altitude. The researchers measured uterine artery blood flow by ultrasound at 20 weeks and 36 weeks of pregnancy, and three months post-partum. They also tracked fetal growth across pregnancy using ultrasound to measure fetal head and abdominal circumference, femur length and estimated fetal weight. The study found the following:

  • At sea level, the changes in uterine artery size during pregnancy were about the same for both the Andean and European women. There were no differences in fetal growth or birth weight between the two groups.
  • At high altitude, the uterine artery of both groups dilated less, reflecting the oxygen-poor environment.
  • Among the high-altitude group, the Andean women's blood flow was 68% greater at 20 weeks of pregnancy compared to the non-pregnant state, and the fetuses were larger at this stage. This suggests that the uterine artery is playing a causal role in the lower birth weight, as opposed to being a result of having a smaller baby and needing less oxygen or fewer nutrients, Dr. Julian said.
  • Among the high-altitude group, oxygen delivery to the fetus was nearly 2-fold greater in the Andean women at week 36.

The researchers also found a relationship at high altitude between the percent of indigenous Andean ancestry and the uterine artery blood flow, uterine oxygen delivery, and birth weight. In other words, the more Andean a woman was, the greater the uterine artery blood flow, the more nutrients delivered to the infant and the greater the birth weight.

This research may one day have implications for the development of therapeutic strategies to increase uterine artery blood flow or to change the way the blood vessels respond during pregnancies that are complicated by hypoxia and/or reduced fetal growth.


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Contact: Christine Guilfoy
cguilfoy@the-aps.org
301-634-7253
American Physiological Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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