Background: Abnormal blood flow patterns in fetal circulation detected by Doppler ultrasound may indicate poor fetal prognosis. It is also possible false positive Doppler ultrasound findings could encourage inappropriate early delivery.
Objectives: The objective of this review was to assess the effects of Doppler ultrasound used to assess fetal well-being in high-risk pregnancies on obstetric care and fetal outcomes.
Search methods: We updated the search of the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register on 30 September 2013.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials of Doppler ultrasound for the investigation of umbilical and fetal vessels waveforms in high-risk pregnancies compared with no Doppler ultrasound.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed the studies for inclusion, assessed risk of bias and carried out data extraction. Data entry was checked.
Main results: Eighteen completed studies involving just over 10,000 women were included. The trials were generally of unclear quality with some evidence of possible publication bias. The use of Doppler ultrasound in high-risk pregnancy was associated with a reduction in perinatal deaths (risk ratio (RR) 0.71, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.52 to 0.98, 16 studies, 10,225 babies, 1.2% versus 1.7 %, number needed to treat (NNT) = 203; 95% CI 103 to 4352). There were also fewer inductions of labour (average RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.80 to 0.99, 10 studies, 5633 women, random-effects) and fewer caesarean sections (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.84 to 0.97, 14 studies, 7918 women). No difference was found in operative vaginal births (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.14, four studies, 2813 women), nor in Apgar scores less than seven at five minutes (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.24, seven studies, 6321 babies).
Authors' conclusions: Current evidence suggests that the use of Doppler ultrasound in high-risk pregnancies reduced the risk of perinatal deaths and resulted in less obstetric interventions. The quality of the current evidence was not of high quality, therefore, the results should be interpreted with some caution. Studies of high quality with follow-up studies on neurological development are needed.