Effect of prenatal screening on trends in perinatal mortality associated with congenital anomalies before and after the introduction of prenatal screening: A population-based study in the Northern Netherlands

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2021 Nov;35(6):654-663. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12792. Epub 2021 Jul 30.


Background: Perinatal mortality in foetuses/children with congenital anomalies remains high. Prenatal diagnosis, essential for risk assessment and organisation of perinatal/postnatal care, offers parents the opportunity to consider the termination of pregnancy. In times of quick changes in prenatal screening programmes, it is relevant to evaluate the effect of prenatal screening on perinatal mortality rates.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to study trends in early foetal and perinatal mortality associated with congenital anomalies before/after the introduction of the Dutch prenatal screening programme.

Methods: This population-based cohort study included 8535 foetuses/neonates with congenital anomalies born in the Northern Netherlands between 2001 and 2017. Total deaths were defined as sum of early foetal (before 24 weeks' gestation) and perinatal deaths (from 24 weeks' gestation till day 7 post-partum). Foetal deaths were categorised into spontaneous or elective termination of pregnancy for foetal anomalies (TOPFA). Trends in total mortality as well as early foetal and perinatal mortality were studied. Joinpoint regression was used to calculate the average annual percentage chance (AAPC) and identify linear trends in mortality within subperiods.

Results: Total and perinatal mortality were 17% and 4%. Total mortality was higher in abnormal karyotype and central nervous system anomalies. We observed an increase in total mortality over time: 11.9% in 2001 versus 21.9% in 2017 (AAPC 2.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5, 3.7), caused by an increase in early foetal mortality from 5.5% to 19.2% (AAPC 8.7, 95% CI 4.7, 12.9) and a decrease in perinatal mortality from 6.4% to 2.7% (AAPC -5.6, 95% CI -10.0, -1.0). The increase in early foetal mortality reflects an increase in TOPFA from 3.6% to 16.9% (AAPC 8.3, 95% CI 4.2, 12.7), mostly occurring at 13-14 and 20-23 weeks' gestation.

Conclusions: The introduction of the prenatal screening programme led to a decrease in perinatal mortality among foetuses and neonates with congenital anomalies and a marked increase in early foetal mortality before 24 weeks' gestation due to higher rates of TOPFA.

Keywords: congenital anomalies; foetal mortality; perinatal mortality; prenatal screening.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Perinatal Death*
  • Perinatal Mortality*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis