Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Perinatal brain damage: predictive value of metabolic acidosis and the Apgar score.

British Medical Journal 1988; 297 doi: (Published 02 July 1988) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1988;297:24
  1. V. J. Ruth,
  2. K. O. Raivio
  1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Finland.


    To assess the predictive value for perinatal brain damage of acidosis at birth, alone or in combination with the Apgar score at 5 minutes, a cohort of 982 liveborn infants delivered over two months was studied prospectively. The umbilical cord was double clamped, and arterial acid-base values were successfully determined in 964 infants and lactate concentration in 931. Reference values defining acidosis (mean +/- 2 SD) were obtained from a subset of 127 term infants who had no complications. The incidence of a low pH was 12% (111 out of 964), high base deficit 7% (70 out of 964), high lactate concentration 9% (83 out of 931), and low Apgar score at 5 minutes (less than or equal to 7) 3% (32 out of 982). Twelve of the 111 infants (11%) with acidosis had a low Apgar score, and 12 out of 29 infants (41%) with low Apgar scores had acidosis. At one year of age 35 infants were lost to follow up and 22 had an adverse outcome unrelated to asphyxia; 883 infants showed normal development but the possible sequelae of asphyxia were four deaths, slight abnormalities in 28 infants, and clear abnormalities in 10. The sensitivity and the positive predictive value of low pH for adverse outcome were, respectively, 21 and 8%, of high lactate concentration 12 and 5%, and of low 5 minute Apgar score 12 and 19%. Metabolic acidosis determined in blood from the umbilical artery at birth is a poor predictor of perinatal brain damage.