- 1In premature fetal sheep (89-93 days gestation) we examined the fetal response to asphyxia induced by 30 min of complete umbilical cord occlusion. Fetuses were also studied during the first 3 days after asphyxia. We measured heart rate, blood pressure, carotid and femoral blood flows, vascular resistance, electroencephalographic activity and cerebral changes in haemoglobin concentration by near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).
- 2Fetuses tolerated 30 min of asphyxia and the cardiovascular response was characterized by three phases: initial redistribution of blood flow away from the periphery to maintain vital organ function, partial failure of this redistribution and near terminal cardiovascular collapse, with profound hypotension and cerebral and peripheral hypoperfusion.
- 3Post-asphyxia carotid blood flow and NIRS data demonstrated that between 3-5 h there was a significant secondary reduction in cerebral blood flow, blood volume and oxygenation despite normal perfusion pressure and heart rate. There was also a secondary fall in femoral blood flow which persisted throughout recovery.
- 4These data demonstrate that the immature fetus can survive a prolonged period of asphyxia, but paradoxically the capacity to survive exposes the fetus to profound hypotension and hypoperfusion. A secondary period of significant cerebral hypoperfusion and reduced oxygen delivery also occurred post-asphyxia. These cardiovascular and cerebrovascular responses may contribute to the patterns of cerebral injury seen in the human preterm fetus.