Wave reflections in the umbilical artery measured by Doppler ultrasound as a novel predictor of placental pathology
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BACKGROUND: The umbilical artery (UA) Doppler pulsatility index is used clinically to detect elevated feto-placental vascular resistance. However, this metric is confounded by variation in fetal cardiac function and is only moderately predictive of placental pathology. Our group developed a novel ultrasound methodology that measures wave reflections in the UA, thereby isolating a component of the Doppler signal that is specific to the placenta. The present study examined whether wave reflections in the UA are predictive of placental vascular pathology. METHODS: Standard clinical Doppler ultrasound of the UAs was performed in 241 pregnant women. Of these, 40 women met narrowly defined preset criteria for the control group, 36 had maternal vascular malperfusion (MVM) and 16 had fetal vascular malperfusion (FVM). Using a computational procedure, the Doppler waveforms were decomposed into a pair of forward and backward propagating waves. FINDINGS: Compared to controls, wave reflections were significantly elevated in women with either MVM (p<0.0001) or FVM pathology (p = 0.02). In contrast, the umbilical and uterine artery pulsatility indices were only elevated in the MVM group (p<0.0001) and there were no differences between women with FVM and the controls. INTERPRETATION: The measurement of wave reflections in the UA, combined with standard clinical ultrasound parameters, has the potential to improve the diagnostic performance of UA Doppler to detect placental vascular pathology. Identifying women with FVM pathology is particularly challenging prenatally and future investigations will determine if women at risk of this specific placental disease could benefit from this novel diagnostic technique.
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