October 1989

Gastrointestinal Tract Obstruction in the Fetus

Author Affiliations

From the Fetal Treatment Program and the Departments of Surgery (Drs Langer, Adzick, and deLorimier), Radiology (Dr Filly), and Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences (Dr Golbus), University of California, San Francisco. Dr Langer is now with the Division of Pediatric Surgery, McMaster University Medical Centre, Hamilton, Canada.

Arch Surg. 1989;124(10):1183-1187. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1989.01410100085014

• Surgical advice is often sought when a prenatal diagnosis of gastrointestinal tract obstruction is made. We reviewed our experience with 17 such cases during a 4-year period. Eight fetuses had complete proximal obstruction. Seven of the 8 did well after maternal transport to a perinatal center and prompt neonatal surgery. Six fetuses had distal obstruction with dilated bowel and increased peristalsis. Two died after birth (1 with severe associated anomalies and 1 with short-bowel syndrome), and the other 4 did well. Three fetuses had a false-positive diagnosis of in utero meconium peritonitis. Two died and the other had no postnatal evidence of obstruction. Our data suggest (1) polyhydramnios may not be present early in gestation or with distal obstruction; (2) other anomalies, including a family history of cystic fibrosis, should be sought; (3) dilated bowel with increased peristalsis is diagnostic of fetal gastrointestinal tract obstruction, whereas intra-abdominal calcification and ascites are nonspecific findings; (4) late development of ascites in a fetus with documented obstruction may be an indication for early delivery; and (5) prenatal diagnosis permits appropriate counseling, planned delivery, and prompt postnatal resuscitation and surgery with a good prognosis in most cases.

(Arch Surg. 1989;124:1183-1187)