March 27, 2019
Amniotic Fluid Embolism Is Rare but Dangerous - Know the Symptoms
By: Cara Terreri, LCCE, CD(DONA) | 0 Comments
March 27 is Amniotic Fluid Embolism Awareness Day, and we never advocate for the kind of pregnancy information that promotes "what to worry about when you're pregnant," especially when it comes to complications that are rare, but it's important to know about the signs and symptoms you shouldn't ignore in pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. This includes symptoms of amniotic fluid embolism.
Amniotic fluid embolism, or "AFE," is a life-threatening and very rare complication (only about 2.5 occurrences in 100,000 births) that cannot be cured, prevented, or predicted. AFE can affect both the pregnant/birthing parent and baby. AFE describes a set of allergy-like reactions that can occur when amniotic fluid enters the pregnant person's circulatory system. AFE can happen in pregnancy, most often before, during, or just after birth. Many people will have amniotic fluid and/or debris from baby enter their system without any kind of reaction. With AFE, the body reacts to the foreign material first with respiratory (breathing) failure, which can lead to heart failure, then with extensive bleeding where the placenta detaches in the uterus or at the site of a cesarean incision. Because there is no cure or prevention for AFE, it's a matter of addressing the symptoms and using procedures like administering oxygen, transfusing blood, plasma, and platelets, and sometimes, hysterectomy. While the data is unclear, the parent's survival rate with AFE is between 20-60% and for babies, it's around 35%, with possibilities for long-term complications for both parent and baby.
Because we have little understanding of what causes AFE, the best thing you can do to is to learn the symptoms in order to get medical attention and support right away, if possible. In many cases of AFE, there are very few mild warning signs leading up to onset; in other cases, early signs and symptoms of amniotic fluid embolism are:
- Sudden shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- Feeling agitated, increased anxiety, or other altered mental state
- Fatigue or weakness
- Skin discoloration
- Nausea, vomiting
- Bleeding from the uterus, cesarean incision or IV site
- Rapid heart rate or unusual heart rhythm
- Baby's slowed heart rate, other heart rate abnormalities, and/or decreased movement in the womb
- Loss of consciousness
To learn more, spread the word, and support research and advocacy to end AFE, visit the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation.
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