Objective: Electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM) is the most widely used method of intrapartum surveillance, and our objective is to review its ability to prevent perinatal brain injury and death.
Data sources: Studies that quantified intrapartum EFM and its relation to specific neurologic outcomes (seizures, periventricular leukomalacia, cerebral palsy, death) were eligible for inclusion. MEDLINE was searched from 1966 to 2006 for studies that examined the relationship between intrapartum EFM and perinatal brain injury using these MeSH and text words: "cardiotocography," "electronic fetal monitoring," "intrapartum fetal heart rate monitoring," "intrapartum fetal monitoring," and "fetal heart rate monitoring."
Methods of study selection: This search strategy identified 1,628 articles, and 41 were selected for further review. Articles were excluded for the following reasons: in case reports, letters, commentaries, and review articles, intrapartum EFM was not quantified, or specific perinatal neurologic morbidity was not measured. Three observational studies and a 2001 meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials were selected for determination of the effect of intrapartum EFM on perinatal brain injury.
Tabulation, integration, and results: Electronic fetal monitoring was introduced into widespread clinical practice in the late 1960s based on retrospective studies comparing its use to historical controls where auscultation was performed in a nonstandardized manner. Case-control studies have shown correlation of EFM abnormalities with umbilical artery base excess, but EFM was not able to identify cerebral white matter injury or cerebral palsy. Of 13 randomized controlled trials, one showed a significant decrease in perinatal mortality with EFM compared with auscultation. Meta-analysis of the randomized controlled trials comparing EFM with auscultation have found an increased incidence of cesarean delivery and decreased neonatal seizures but no effect on the incidence of cerebral palsy or perinatal death.
Conclusion: Although intrapartum EFM abnormalities correlate with umbilical cord base excess and its use is associated with decreased neonatal seizures, it has no effect on perinatal mortality or pediatric neurologic morbidity.