TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Stillbirth has long been a mysterious and devastating pregnancy complication. But two new studies are uncovering more about what causes stillbirth and the factors that may raise a woman's chances of having a stillbirth -- at least some of which are avoidable.
Stillbirth, defined as a fetus that dies during the 20th week of gestation or later, occurs in about one in 160 pregnancies in the United States, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In the first study, about 500 women who'd had a stillborn baby agreed to an autopsy and genetic testing of the fetus, an examination of the placenta, as well as interviews and an analysis of their medical record. The women were racially and geographically diverse, hailing from five states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas and Utah.
Researchers were able to determine the cause of death in 61 percent of stillbirths, and a "possible or probable" cause of death in more than three-fourths of cases.
Placental abnormalities, such as blood clots, were blamed in 24 percent of stillbirths, making it the most common identifiable cause. Fetal genetic abnormalities, including trisomy 13 or 18 (involving an extra chromosome), and major birth defects of the brain or heart, were blamed in about 14 percent of stillbirths.
Infections, either bacterial or viral, were blamed in 13 percent of stillbirths. They included E. coli or group B strep, cytomegaloviris and parvovirus, which causes Fifth disease (a rash that can occur in childhood). While many women get those infections during pregnancy and their babies are fine, in a small number the infections can lead to stillbirth, said study author Dr. Robert Silver.
Umbilical cord abnormalities, such as blood clots, caused 10.4 percent of stillbirths, while hypertension in the mother was implicated in just over 9 p
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