The role of the fetal biophysical profile in the management of fetal growth restriction

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2022 Apr;226(4):475-486. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2022.01.020.


Growth-restricted fetuses are at risk of hypoxemia, acidemia, and stillbirth because of progressive placental dysfunction. Current fetal well-being, neonatal risks following delivery, and the anticipated rate of fetal deterioration are the major management considerations in fetal growth restriction. Surveillance has to quantify the fetal risks accurately to determine the delivery threshold and identify the testing frequency most likely to capture future deterioration and prevent stillbirth. From the second trimester onward, the biophysical profile score correlates over 90% with the current fetal pH, and a normal score predicts a pH >7.25 with a 100% positive predictive value; an abnormal score on the other hand predicts current fetal acidemia with similar certainty. Between 30% and 70% of growth-restricted fetuses with a nonreactive heart rate require biophysical profile scoring to verify fetal well-being, and an abnormal score in 8% to 27% identifies the need for delivery, which is not suspected by Doppler findings. Future fetal well-being is not predicted by the biophysical profile score, which emphasizes the importance of umbilical artery Doppler and amniotic fluid volume to determine surveillance frequency. Studies with integrated surveillance strategies that combine frequent heart rate monitoring with biophysical profile scoring and Doppler report better outcomes and stillbirth rates of between 0% and 4%, compared with those between 8% and 11% with empirically determined surveillance frequency. The variations in clinical behavior and management challenges across gestational age are better addressed when biophysical profile scoring is integrated into the surveillance of fetal growth restriction. This review aims to provide guidance on biophysical profile scoring in the in- and outpatient management of fetal growth restriction.

Keywords: Doppler ultrasound; biophysical profile; fetal acidemia; fetal death; fetal growth restriction; fetal hypoxemia; fetal surveillance; nonstress test.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Placenta*
  • Pregnancy
  • Ultrasonography
  • Umbilical Arteries / diagnostic imaging