Life-threatening risks of placenta problems

April 14, 2011 2:57:45 PM PDT
One important organ in a pregnant woman's developing fetus is the placenta. The placenta functions like an intestinal system, whereas it delivers food and clears wastes.

Afterwards, the placenta is expelled and discarded. This is called the afterbirth.

Most of the time, mothers are only concerned with the development of their fetus itself, but actually the environment which includes the placenta is just as important.

Consequently, doctors are starting to see an increase in problems in the development of the placenta. These problems can be serious- even life threatening.

There is a condition called Placenta Accreta. This condition can challenge moms, babies and even their doctors.

Barbara George is the mother of five children and she delivered all five by c-section. Three month old Hannah is Barbara's youngest child, and Hannah's delivery worried Barbara the most.

"There was a high occurrence of hemorrhage," Barbara said. "There was a chance of death, and it caused us to go through many scenarios in our minds of what ifs."

The reason for this was Barbara had Placenta Accreta with this pregnancy. Placenta Accreta is where the placenta attaches to the uterus wall, right over an old scar from a previous c-section.

Previous c-sections are a risk. It can be as risky as it is for women who are pregnant and over thirty-five.

Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan from Hackensack University Medical Center knows why women like Barbara George face certain risks.

"She's perhaps had miscarriages, D&C, multiple operative procedures, which put her at risk for placenta accrete," Al-Khan said.

The reason Placenta Accreta occurs is because there is a natural lining in the uterus that stops placental growth. Scars from a c-section damage this lining, and the placenta can then now invade deeper into the uterine wall.

A routine sonogram or special MRI can pick up Placenta Accreta.

For babies like Hannah, there is little risk. For mothers, the result can be damage to the uterus and the bladder which can result in the removal of either one or both. There can also be hemorrhage so bad; it can result in bleeding to death.

There is only one way to prevent Placenta Accreta from occurring and that is to bring a halt to unnecessary elective c-sections.

Barbara George, who wound up needing a hysterectomy as a result from her c-section, agrees with that conclusion.

"Avoid c-sections if you can," George said. "You don't want to have to wonder what can happen, or wonder will I be here for my children, for my baby."

Since rates of c-sections have been rising, so have the number of Placenta Accreta cases. Dr. Al-Kahn and his colleagues are researching the condition on a microscopic level - at the level of the cells lining the uterus.

They are looking for the cause of the problem, so they can develop treatments. Hopefully, they will be successful.