Background. Increased fetal plasma erythropoietin concentration is an indicator of chronic fetal hypoxia. Amniotic fluid erythropoietin levels correlate highly significantly with fetal erythropoietin levels before labor. We studied AF erythropoietin levels after fetal death in order to determine whether this could differentiate between stillbirths from acute or chronic causes.
Methods. Amniotic fluid was obtained after fetal death for erythropoietin measurement following fetal death in 21 pregnancies. Two of the pregnancies had twins, of which one infant was born alive. All 22 stillborn fetuses had an autopsy. None had malformations. Without prior knowledge of the results of the erythropoietin analyzes, the causes of fetal death were divided into acute, chronic or unknown groups.
Results. Eight pregnancies had an acute cause of fetal death (e.g. cord complication or placental abruption), eight pregnancies had a chronic cause (intrauterine growth restriction or erythroblastosis) and in five pregnancies the cause of fetal death could not be determined. In all eight pregnancies with an acute cause of fetal death, AF erythropoietin levels were normal (< 20 mU/mL). In contrast, six of the eight pregnancies with a chronic cause had AF erythropoietin levels above normal (range from 49.9 mU/mL to 391 mU/mL). In the five pregnancies with an unknown cause of fetal death, AF erythropoietin levels were normal in three and elevated in two.
Conclusions. Elevated AF erythropoietin levels, identified after fetal death, suggest that the fetus died from a chronic hypoxic event, whereas normal AF erythropoietin levels suggest that the fetus died from an acute event.