The impact of maternal obesity on midtrimester sonographic visualization of fetal cardiac and craniospinal structures

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Dec;28(12):1607-11. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802759.


Objective: To examine the impact of maternal obesity on the rate of suboptimal ultrasound visualization (SUV) of fetal anatomy and determine the optimal timing of prenatal ultrasound examination for the obese gravida.

Methods: A computerized ultrasound database was used to identify ultrasound examinations for singleton gestations performed between 14(0/7) and 23(6/7) weeks at a tertiary care, university-based hospital. Patients were divided into four groups and categorized based on body mass index (BMI): nonobese (BMI <30 kg/m2), class I obesity (30< or =BMI<35 kg/m2), class II obesity (35< or =BMI<40 kg/m2), and extreme obesity (BMI > or =40 kg/m2). The rates of SUV for fetal cardiac and craniospinal structures were calculated for each group and compared.

Results: A total of 11,019 pregnancies were studied, of which 38.6% of the patients were obese. Overall, the rate of SUV of the fetal structures was higher for obese compared to nonobese women for both cardiac (37.3 [1723/4200] vs 18.7% [1275/6819]; P<0.0001) and craniospinal structures (42.8 [1798/4200] vs 29.5% [2012/6819]; P<0.0001). Increased severity of maternal obesity was associated with SUV rate for both the cardiac (nonobese 18.7% [1275/6819], class I 29.6% [599/2022], class II 39.0% [472/1123], and extreme obesity 49.3% [580/1055]; P<0.0001) and for the craniospinal structures: (nonobese 29.5% [2012/6819], class I 36.8% [744/2022], class II 43.3% [486/1123], and extreme obesity 53.4% [563/1055]; P<0.0001). With increasing gestational age at examination, the rate of SUV decreased for both obese and nonobese women. However, for obese women there was minimal improvement in visualization after 18-20 weeks. Even after adjustment for gestational age and the type of ultrasound machine, obese women (class I, class II, and extreme obesity) were still associated with increased odds for SUV of the fetal cardiac and craniospinal structures compared to nonobese women.

Conclusion: Maternal obesity increases the rate of SUV for the fetal cardiac structures by 49.8% and for the craniospinal structures by 31%. The optimal gestational age for visualization of fetal cardiac and craniospinal anatomy in obese patients may be after 18-20 weeks.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Central Nervous System / diagnostic imaging*
  • Central Nervous System / embryology
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Obesity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*