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Foetal pleural effusion is a condition where there is an accumulation of fluid in the area between the lungs and the chest cavity of the foetus. This space normally contains some amount of fluid in order for the smooth movement of the lungs. But a problem arises when the amount of fluid between the space increases, causing an obstruction for the proper growth of the lungs and smooth functioning of the foetal heart.
Typically, foetal pleural effusion can be unilateral (affecting one lung) or bilateral (affecting both the lungs). The severity of the condition depends on the amount of fluid accumulated in the chest cavity.
What Causes Foetal Pleural Effusion?
The main cause of foetal pleural effusion is said to be a combination of lung problems and abnormal lymph drainage. Both of these conditions result in the accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity. Often, this condition can also be related to heart problems or chromosomal abnormalities. The condition can also be genetic.
Foetal pleural effusion may also be a result of an infection, such as pneumonia which can attack the fluid normally present in the chest cavity, which leads to expansion of the fluid to abnormal amounts.
How Is It Diagnosed?
In most cases, the foetal pleural effusion is clearly visible in the ultrasound scans. Usually taking place in the third trimester, it can cause a huge bummer to the growing lungs. However, no serious action is taken unless the fluid collection is extreme, where it may stall the growth of the lungs and also affect the normal functioning of the heart.
If the doctor notices abnormalities around the lungs, they may further probe with the help of a Doppler to detect the blood flow to the region. An echocardiogram will further help the doctor to determine if the condition is affecting the heart.
Many a time, pleural effusion is diagnosed after birth. Symptoms of the conditions include chest pain, difficulty in breathing or a cough.
What Are The Treatment Options For Foetal Pleural Effusion?
The treatment of foetal pleural effusion depends on the amount of fluid collected in the lungs. While small amounts do not cause much harm to the foetus, larger amounts may need to be drained. Nevertheless, this condition can easily be corrected if diagnosed on time.
Some cases of foetal pleural effusion are known to resolve on their own as the fluid may disappear with time. However, the fluid needs to be drained if the levels appear to be abnormal and severely affect the functioning of the heart and lungs.
The doctor may perform a small foetal surgery by inserting a small tube to help drain the lung cavity. All this is done through the ultrasound to locate the affected area. The tube is inserted through the mother's uterus into the lung cavity to drain the excess fluid. The foetus is known to develop normally after this. But it is kept under close observation in order to avoid the problem from resurfacing.
It is as important to determine the cause of foetal pleural effusion as it is to treat it as cases of the condition which are genetic are known to relapse. In order to understand the root cause of the condition, the fluid drained from the lungs is tested in a lab. This makes it easier for the parents to manage the condition.
Can The Baby Survive?
Foetal pleural effusion is known to be life threatening only if diagnosed before 30 weeks of pregnancy, the chances of which are extremely rare. Diagnosis after that period is known to be easily treated as there are many options available, thanks to the advancement of medical science.
About 2 in 1000 babies are known to be affected with foetal pleural effusion around the world, most of the cases being non-life threatening.
If your baby has been diagnosed with foetal pleural effusion before birth or after birth, it is important to determine the cause of foetal pleural effusion as it can resurface anytime. Timely treatment becomes absolutely necessary in such conditions because it affects the most important organ functions of the heart and lungs, which can be life threatening if untreated.