Diagnosis of birth asphyxia on the basis of fetal pH, Apgar score, and newborn cerebral dysfunction

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1989 Sep;161(3):825-30. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(89)90410-9.


Imprecise diagnosis of birth asphyxia coupled with uncertainties about causal factors for neurologic abnormalities in the newborn have greatly fueled the current litigation crisis in obstetrics. Our goal was to more precisely define birth asphyxia based on fetal condition as measured by umbilical artery blood pH, Apgar scores, and neurologic condition of newborns. We selected for study 2738 patients with singleton pregnancies with cephalic presentations who were delivered of infants at term to avoid complications such as prematurity, which may affect infant outcome independent of birth condition. The basis for study of these particular patients were defined criteria for high risk and an indicated arterial cord pH value. A total of five infants demonstrated cerebral dysfunction as evidenced by seizures during the neonatal period. Infection was linked to seizures in three of these infants; one infant had neonatal asphyxia and only one infant's clinical course could be attributed solely to birth events (uterine rupture). Stratification of umbilical artery blood pH values, Apgar scores, and combinations of these dependent variables in relation to newborn clinical outcomes revealed that infants must be severely depressed at delivery before birth asphyxia can be reliably diagnosed. Such depression includes Apgar scores less than or equal to 3 at 1 and 5 minutes plus umbilical artery pH values less than 7.00.

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium
  • Adult
  • Apgar Score
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum / blood
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum / complications
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum / diagnosis*
  • Cesarean Section
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Seizures / blood
  • Seizures / etiology*