Update on the diagnosis and classification of fetal growth restriction and proposal of a stage-based management protocol

Fetal Diagn Ther. 2014;36(2):86-98. doi: 10.1159/000357592. Epub 2014 Jan 23.


Small fetuses are defined as those with an ultrasound estimated weight below a threshold, most commonly the 10th centile. The first clinically relevant step is the distinction of 'true' fetal growth restriction (FGR), associated with signs of abnormal fetoplacental function and poorer perinatal outcome, from constitutional small-for-gestational age, with a near-normal perinatal outcome. Nowadays such a distinction should not be based solely on umbilical artery Doppler, since this index detects only early-onset severe forms. FGR should be diagnosed in the presence of any of the factors associated with a poorer perinatal outcome, including Doppler cerebroplacental ratio, uterine artery Doppler, a growth centile below the 3rd centile, and, possibly in the near future, maternal angiogenic factors. Once the diagnosis is established, differentiating into early- and late-onset FGR is useful mainly for research purposes, because it distinguishes two clear phenotypes with differences in severity, association with preeclampsia, and the natural history of fetal deterioration. As a second clinically relevant step, management of FGR and the decision to deliver aims at an optimal balance between minimizing fetal injury or death versus the risks of iatrogenic preterm delivery. We propose a protocol that integrates current evidence to classify stages of fetal deterioration and establishes follow-up intervals and optimal delivery timings, which may facilitate decisions and reduce practice variability in this complex clinical condition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / classification*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods*