Development of fetal intestinal length during 2nd-trimester in normal and pathologic pregnancies

Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2012 Jan-Feb;15(1):24-9. doi: 10.2350/11-07-1057-OA.1. Epub 2011 Nov 9.


Linear growth of the human fetal gastrointestinal tract is not often discussed in the literature, and little is known about the effects of chromosomal abnormalities and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) on intestinal length, especially during the 2nd trimester. Accurate evaluation of intestinal length and knowledge of normal and reference values are of clinical importance. For example, intestinal resection may be necessary in preterm infants with necrotizing enterocolitis or mid-gut volvulus, and the surgeon should use data to be judicious in the amount removed. Linear measurements are essential in evaluating fetal development ultrasonographically and are an integral part of the postmortem examination. The intestinal lengths of 203 2nd-trimester fetuses and premature infants were measured. Small intestine length (SIL), colon length (CL), total bowel length (TBL; TBL = SIL + CL), and the length of the appendix (AL) increased with gestational age. No differences between the genders were observed. Colon length increased secondary to maceration, but no such effects were shown on SIL, TBL, or AL. No differences were shown in relation to IUGR. Small intestine length, CL, and TBL, but not AL, were shorter in fetuses with trisomy 21. Appendix length was not affected by any of the studied factors. We propose that the measurement of the length of the appendix may be used as an additional parameter for the postmortem evaluation of gestational age. Furthermore, its assessment may have potential as an ultrasonographic indicator of gestational age, particularly for the 2nd trimester.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Abortion, Spontaneous
  • Adult
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation
  • Fetus / abnormalities
  • Fetus / embryology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Intestines / abnormalities
  • Intestines / embryology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second*
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Factors