The process of carrying and safely delivering a baby is complex and unpredictable. While it usually proceeds without difficulty, serious complications are possible. One of these is a condition called chorioamnionitis. It can result in serious consequences for both mother and child.
What is Chorioamnionitis?
Both beneficial and so-called “bad” bacteria flourish throughout our bodies, usually without causing undue problems. However, when a pregnant woman contracts a bacterial infection in her urogenital tract, it can infect the fetal membranes surrounding the baby. As a result, both mother and child can be adversely affected. If chorioamnionitis is not treated, the patient can develop serious conditions such as uterine or pelvic infection, endometriosis, sepsis or blood poisoning ( or sepsis). The vast majority of infants with chorioamnionitis are premature.
The Causes of Chorioamnionitis
In most cases, this condition stems from an infection in the mother’s vaginal area. There are various strains of bacteria that can cause it, including E. coli, group B streptococci and anaerobic. As soon as a patient suspects that she may have an infection, she should visit a medical professional so that treatment can be commenced. This is the most effective way to safeguard the child and keep the infection from worsening.
As is often the case, prevention is the best way to keep yourself and your baby safe from the consequences of chorioamnionitis. The first step is to understand risk factors that can make you more susceptible. These include:
- First pregnancy.
- Young maternal age (usually under 21).
- Rupture of membranes lasting longer than 18 hours.
- The amniotic sac breaks long before labor.
- Prolonged labor.
- Premature labor.
- Pre-existing infections.
The use of alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy can also be a contributing factor.
Symptoms of Chorioamnionitis
The next step in prevention comes when you understand the symptoms of this bacterial infection. These signs include:
- Fast heart rate in mother and baby.
- Pain in the uterus.
- Bad-smelling amniotic fluid.
- Maternal leukocytosis (high white blood cell count).
- Vaginal discharge.
- Fetal tachycardia.
When chorioamnionitis is pass from mother to baby, it can result in a severe systemic blood infection known as sepsis. The symptoms for the infant include:
- Fatigue, weak cries and poor sucking.
- Pulmonary difficulties (cyanosis, apnea and respiratory distress).
- Gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea and bloody stools.
- Blood-related complications such as purpura or pallor.
How Chorioamnionitis is Diagnosed
It is crucial that chorioamnionitis is diagnosed as soon as possible in order to reduce the possibility of serious complications in both mother and child. That being said, this condition is not always easy to detect since it often has few if any palpable symptoms in the mother. Consequently, it is sometimes only perceived by medical professionals when they notice an increased heart rate in parent or baby. Expectant moms should also report any recurring fevers of over 100 F since this is a strong indicator of infection.
If a physician suspects chorioamnionitis, they may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- Amniocentesis. In this procedure, a needle is inserted into the amniotic sac in order to remove a small sample of fluid. This is then tested. If the fluid has high concentrations of white blood cells and low glucose, it is an indication of bacterial infection.
- White blood cell count.
- Alpha1 protein measurement.
- C-reactive protein levels.
- Ferratin levels.
Many of these tests can be conducted via a fast blood draw.
Because this bacterial infection can have serious consequences for both of the patients involved, it is treated quickly and aggressively after diagnosis. The mother is generally placed on antibiotics immediately, and often it is recommended that the baby be delivered early to prevent further complications. In some cases, additional forms of treatment are also required that can include:
- Intubating the baby or placing them on a ventilator.
- Balancing glucose levels.
- Inserting artificial breathing tubes for the baby.
If the infection is caught early and treated effectively, the long-term outlook for an infant with chorioamnionitis is positive. However, lasting complications can occur if there are issues with diagnosis and/or medical intervention. These can include:
- Severe respiratory issues.
- Brain damage.
Infants born prematurely are at a higher risk for these long-term complications. However, they are still relatively rare; for instance, there is only a 10 to 20-percent chance of the baby contracting pneumonia and a 15 percent chance of brain damage.
Most mothers who contract chorioamnionitis can look forward to few if any ongoing concerns. The only potential serious outcome is possible fertility problems.
With the exception of babies who develop meningitis or sepsis, the majority of infants born with this infection also do well and do not experience long-term physical or cognitive issues.
Preventing chorioamnionitis is the single most effective way you can avoid its potential consequences for you and your baby. That means keeping your regular obstetric appointments and bringing any concerns to your doctor’s attention as soon as they arise. In the event that you do contract the infection and you or your child experience serious or long-term difficulties related to its diagnosis or treatment, you don’t need to suffer alone. Contact an attorney who specializes in birth injuries to determine if you are entitled to compensation.