The benefits of transplacental treatment of isolated congenital complete heart block associated with maternal anti-Ro/SSA antibodies: a review

Scand J Immunol. 2010 Sep;72(3):235-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3083.2010.02440.x.


Isolated congenital complete atrio-ventricular block (CAVB) is associated with the transplacental passage of maternal autoantibodies directed to foetal Ro/SSA ribonucleoproteins. Their interactions most likely trigger the inflammation of the atrio-ventricular node and the myocardium in susceptible foetuses. The inflamed tissues may then heal with fibrosis that may cause heart block, endocardial fibroelastosis, and dilated cardiomyopathy. CAVB, the most common cardiac complication, typically develops between 18 and 24 gestational weeks. Untreated, the condition carries a significant mortality risk as the foetus needs to overcome the sudden drop in ventricular rate, the loss of normal atrial systolic contribution to ventricular filling, and perhaps concomitant myocardial inflammation and fibrosis. The rationale to treat a foetus at the stage of CAVB is primarily to mitigate myocardial inflammation and to augment foetal cardiac output. Maternal dexamethasone administration has been shown to improve incomplete foetal AV block, myocardial dysfunction, and cavity effusions. Beta-sympathomimetics may be useful to increase the foetal heart rate and myocardial contractility. Published data from our institution suggest an improved survival >90% if maternal high-dose dexamethasone was initiated at the time of CAVB detection and maintained during the pregnancy and if a beta-adrenergic drug was added at foetal heart rates below 55 beats/min. Despite the improvement in outcome, there is an ongoing debate about treatment-related risks. In this review, we will appraise the natural history of untreated CAVB, discuss currently available management options, and examine the results and risks of in-utero treatment of antibody-mediated CAVB.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / immunology*
  • Atrioventricular Block / congenital*
  • Atrioventricular Block / etiology
  • Atrioventricular Block / immunology
  • Atrioventricular Block / prevention & control
  • Atrioventricular Block / therapy*
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / etiology
  • Fetal Diseases / immunology
  • Fetal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Fetal Diseases / therapy
  • Fetal Therapies / methods*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Steroids / administration & dosage
  • Steroids / therapeutic use


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • SS-A antibodies
  • Steroids