Pathophysiology of fetal growth restriction: implications for diagnosis and surveillance

Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2004 Aug;59(8):617-27. doi: 10.1097/01.ogx.0000133943.54530.76.


Normal fetal growth depends on the genetically predetermined growth potential and is modulated by fetal, placental, maternal, and external factors. Fetuses with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) are at high risk for poor short- and long-term outcome. Although there are many underlying etiologies, IUGR resulting from placental insufficiency is most relevant clinically because outcome could be altered by appropriate diagnosis and timely delivery. A diagnostic approach that aims to separate IUGR resulting from placental disease from constitutionally small fetuses and those with other underlying etiologies (e.g., aneuploidy, viral infection, nonaneuploid syndromes) needs to integrate multiple imaging modalities. In placental-based IUGR, cardiovascular and behavioral responses are interrelated with the disease severity. Ultrasound assessment of fetal anatomy, amniotic fluid volume, and growth is complementary to the Doppler investigation of fetoplacental blood flow dynamics. A diagnostic approach to IUGR combining these modalities is presented in this review.

Target audience: Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Family Physicians.

Learning objectives: After completion of this article, the reader should be able to describe the development of the placental interface, to outline the mechanisms of placental insufficiency, and to list the manifestations of placental insufficiency and the tests that can be used to diagnose fetal growth restriction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abruptio Placentae
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Distress
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / diagnosis
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / epidemiology
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / etiology*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Placental Circulation / physiology
  • Placental Insufficiency / complications*
  • Placental Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Placental Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Pre-Eclampsia
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular
  • Umbilical Arteries / physiology
  • Umbilical Arteries / physiopathology