If you’re one of the 1-2% of women who have been diagnosed with polyhydramnios, or too much amniotic fluid, don’t panic. In most cases, this condition is classified as mild and/or harmless and can be successfully monitored throughout your pregnancy.
Here are some important facts about the condition, as well as what you need to know about the role of amniotic fluid in pregnancy.
The importance of amniotic fluid
Amniotic fluid is essential during pregnancy, because the water-like substance helps to protect and cushion your little one inside the womb, while allowing free movement – as well as growth and development. It also helps with urine production, as it assists in the development of the gastrointestinal system by kickstarting the process when the foetus swallows the fluid. However, in the case of polyhydramnios (where too much amniotic fluid is present in the mom’s stomach), it can be problematic.
What is polyhydramnios?
Polyhydramnios is a condition where there is more amniotic fluid than usual, according to doctors from the Obstetrics and Reproductive Services department at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
In some rare instances, the condition can start to develop suddenly at about four or five months into the pregnancy. In severe cases, the amount of amniotic fluid might continue to increase and this can threaten the pregnancy, and result in premature delivery.
Signs and symptoms
Johannesburg-based gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Tom Mokaya says polyhydramnios might cause:
- Your stomach to appear more swollen and much larger than a normal pregnant stomach
- Some pain in your stomach
- Breathing difficulties
- Swelling in your legs.
If your doctor suspects that you have too much amniotic fluid, you’ll have a scan immediately to measure the amount of fluid present and thereafter your doctor will discuss a plan of action.
In various studies published in the German medical journal, Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde, there can be a few reasons why this condition develops, but the most common causes include:
- Gestational diabetes – which can cause hyperglycaemia in the foetus, resulting in large amounts of diluted urine in the mom’s stomach
- Foetal anomalies including problems with swallowing (amniotic fluid) in the womb.
Dr Mokaya also mentions the following instances where polyhydramnios is more prevalent:
- Twin pregnancies.
- If there’s a lack of red blood cells in the foetus.
- Blood incompatibilities between the mom and her baby.
Possible tests for the condition
- A glucose challenge test. Because there’s a strong link between gestational diabetes and polyhydramnios, this will be one of the first tests you’ll have – and will indicate whether or not you have diabetes.
- Regular monitoring and ultrasounds. Your doctor will want to keep measuring the amount of amniotic fluid present to ensure it doesn’t keep increasing. Ultrasounds will help to determine if there are any abnormalities with the foetus.
- Amniocentesis. This is where a needle is used to draw a sample of amniotic fluid from the womb. The test helps doctors to determine whether there are any problems with the developing foetus, as amniotic fluid contains foetal cells and various chemicals produced by the foetus.
- A chromosomal check. Also known as a karyotype, this test will help to determine whether there are any chromosomal defects in the foetus. The cells needed for this test can be taken from the amniotic fluid drawn during the amniocentesis.
Treatment options for polyhydramnios
Dr Mokaya believes there’s a lot you can do to manage the problem and prevent premature labour or further complications. He says:
- If a specific cause is identified through the various tests, the good news is your doctor will know how to treat you, along with close monitoring.
- If you’re experiencing pain and discomfort, excess amniotic fluid can be drained without harming your baby. This procedure can also be repeated more than once.
- If there’s too much foetal urine production (often caused by gestational diabetes), certain safe medicines can be given to control this.