Prenatal diagnosis of severe structural congenital malformations in Europe

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Jan;25(1):6-11. doi: 10.1002/uog.1784.


Objectives: To assess at a population-based level the frequency with which severe structural congenital malformations are detected prenatally in Europe and the gestational age at detection, and to describe regional variation in these indicators.

Methods: In the period 1995-1999, data were obtained from 17 European population-based registries of congenital malformations (EUROCAT). Included were all live births, fetal deaths and terminations of pregnancy diagnosed with one or more of the following malformations: anencephalus, encephalocele, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, transposition of great arteries, hypoplastic left heart, limb reduction defect, bilateral renal agenesis, diaphragmatic hernia, omphalocele and gastroschisis.

Results: The 17 registries reported 4366 cases diagnosed with the 11 severe structural malformations and of these 2300 were live births (53%), 181 were fetal deaths (4%) and 1863 were terminations of pregnancy (43%); in 22 cases pregnancy outcome was unknown. The overall prenatal detection rate was 64% (range, 25-88% across regions). The proportion of terminations of pregnancy varied between regions from 15% to 59% of all cases. Gestational age at discovery for prenatally diagnosed cases was less than 24 weeks for 68% (range, 36-88%) of cases. There was a significant relationship between high prenatal detection rate and early diagnosis (P < 0.0001). For individual malformations, the prenatal detection rate was highest for anencephalus (469/498, 94%) and lowest for transposition of the great arteries (89/324, 27%). Termination of pregnancy was performed in more than half of the prenatally diagnosed cases, except for those with transposition of the great arteries, diaphragmatic hernia and gastroschisis, in which 30-40% of the pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis were terminated.

Conclusion: European countries currently vary widely in the provision and uptake of prenatal screening and its quality, as well as the "culture" in terms of decision to continue the pregnancy. This inevitably contributes to variation between countries in perinatal and infant mortality and in childhood prevalence and cost to health services of congenital anomalies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / statistics & numerical data
  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnostic imaging*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Death / epidemiology
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Fetal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*