Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Antenatal screening for intrauterine growth retardation with umbilical artery Doppler ultrasonography.

British Medical Journal 1989; 298 doi: (Published 11 March 1989) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1989;298:631
  1. R. B. Beattie,
  2. J. C. Dornan
  1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Queen's University of Belfast.


    To assess the usefulness of continuous wave Doppler ultrasonography as an antenatal screening tool for the detection of intrauterine growth retardation and fetal compromise 2097 singleton pregnancies were studied. Umbilical artery velocity waveforms were obtained at 28, 34, and 38 weeks of gestation, from which the pulsatility index, A/B ratio, and resistance parameter were calculated. No abnormal features or indices of neonatal outcome were adequately predicted. The most sensitive index for being delivered of a growth retarded infant (less than 5th centile birth weight for gestation) was an A/B ratio at 34 weeks (sensitivity 40%, specificity 84%). Other measures that show poor neonatal nutritional state (ponderal index, skinfold thickness, and ratio of mid-arm circumference to head circumference) were even less well predicted. Acute and chronic hypoxia as determined by Apgar score, pH in blood from the cord artery, and packed cell volume correlated poorly with umbilical artery waveform indices, and there was no obvious difference between the indices of those who subsequently required operative or instrumental delivery for fetal distress and those requiring no intervention. There were three unexplained stillbirths in the series, in each of which the fetus had shown waveform patterns that suggested increased peripheral resistance, though the technique did not appear to be useful for predicting the time of subsequent death. Screening for small for dates babies in a three stage programme was of no value regardless of the threshold or index chosen. Obstetricians should resist the temptation to introduce screening with Doppler ultrasonography until its proper role has been determined.