Placenta previa is a medical condition that can occur even when a mother has an uneventful pregnancy. Should the obstetrician fail to diagnose the medical condition or not treat the condition in a timely manner, the unborn baby can sustain severe injuries resulting in adverse and harmful consequences such as cerebral palsy.
What is Placental Previa?
Placental Previa is a situation where the pregnant mother’s placenta is either partially or fully covering the mother’s cervix. There are four types of Placental Previa:
- Complete Previa – the placental is completely covering the pregnant mother’s cervix;
- Marginal Previa – the placenta is lying near the mother’s cervix;
- Partial Previa – the cervix is starting to dilate, and the placenta is covering part of the cervix; and
- Low-lying Previa – the placenta has moved to within two centimeters of the opening of the cervix but is not covering the cervix’s opening.
The placenta supplies nutrients and oxygen to the unborn baby. The placenta is also responsible for removing waste from the unborn baby’s blood. The placenta is supposed to attach to the upper portion of the mother’s uterus. It is normal for the placenta to move slightly during pregnancy, but placenta previa is a dangerous condition that requires medical attention. Any type of Previa during or near the time of birth is extremely dangerous for the mother and her child. In some cases, the mother may require a blood transfusion to correct her condition. When Previa occurs, the unborn baby might need to be delivered prematurely and/or via an emergency C-section to prevent the flow of oxygenated blood to the baby’s brain from being disrupted. Reduced blood flow to the brain can cause severe brain injury or death.
Placenta Previa happens in one out of 200 pregnancies. There are no exact risk factors that suggest they have an elevated risk for developing Previa. However, the following risk factors could include:
- Being over 35 years old;
- In vitro fertilization;
- A history of placenta previa;
- Delivered their baby by cesarean section.
- Uterine surgery before becoming pregnant;
- Having twins or being pregnant with multiple children; and/or
- Using illegal drugs or tobacco while pregnant.
Placenta Previa is serious, and emergency medical treatment is required to save the health and life of the child and mother. Physicians should consult with pregnant mothers to discuss their medical history and to determine the pregnant mother’s Placenta Previa risk factors.
First, if the physician believes the mother has an above-average risk of Placenta Previa, the mother and doctor can plan the proper treatment plan. For example, the doctor and expectant mother need to know what to do in the event that the mother develops Placenta Previa during her pregnancy.
Next, the mother will have the knowledge to eliminate as many of the risk factors as she is able. For example, the mother could quit using tobacco products to reduce the risk of Placenta Previa and other complications.
Diagnosing and Treating Placenta Previa
Placenta Previa is often diagnosed using ultrasound exams. A woman should receive periodic ultrasounds during her pregnancy to check her uterus, her placenta, and her unborn baby. During an ultrasound exam, an ultrasound technician will look at the mother’s placenta to see if it is properly positioned. However, any instance of Placenta Previa will be caught during the ultrasound examination. There may also be some symptoms that can alert the mother and her doctor of an issue with her pregnancy, and she must seek emergency medical attention:
- Vaginal bleeding;
- Cramping or pain in the vaginal area; and
- Premature contractions.
Pregnant women who see vaginal bleeding must seek medical attention immediately. Further scans will be conducted to decide the cause of the mother’s bleeding.
Should Placenta Previa be diagnosed in a timely manner, the doctor decides there is little that can be done to fix the Previa. If the Placenta Previa is diagnosed as a marginal or low-lying Placenta Previa, the physician might avoid immediate treatment and order additional ultrasound exams to see if the placenta’s position has been corrected.
If subsequent ultrasounds show that the placenta has moved closer to the mother’s cervix or the placenta has remained in its previous position, the doctor might require the mother to refrain from sex, additional vaginal exams, and stop strenuous or physical behavior.
Should the mother’s placenta cover her cervix during delivery, the baby will be delivered via a cesarean section because the baby might not be able to pass through the birth canal.
Can Placenta Previa Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Yes. When the pregnant mother loses blood, the amount of blood supplied to the baby is also decreased. The mother could go into shock, causing the unborn baby to also go into shock. These complications can lead to head and brain injuries, especially if the baby is delivered through an emergency cesarean section or delivered prematurely. The baby can suffer an asphyxic or hypoxic injury, ischemia, and/or physical trauma, which could cause neurological damage to the baby’s brain.
Cerebral Palsy includes many different “forms,” and any form can begin manifesting within a couple of months to several years after birth. The first sign that a baby has Cerebral Palsy is when the child has difficulty sitting up or crawling or they miss other developmental milestones.
Children diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy display rigid muscles that appear to be constantly flexed in their legs, arms, and/or head. The child could begin to show signs of uncontrolled twitching and jerking. The less oxygen supplied to the baby, the more severe their injury or Cerebral Palsy symptoms. There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, and the condition is treated by helping the child learn how to cope and have as independent a life as possible. A child who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy due to undiagnosed and untreated placenta previa will need substantial therapy and help for the rest of their natural life.
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