Tests. Part 3

Posted by Lloyd on April 28, 2012
Women's Health

What is the placenta and why is it important?

The placenta or “afterbirth” is a living organ whose function is critical to the growth, development and survival of the fetus. It both provides your baby with oxygen and nutrients as well as a mechanism for discarding waste products and carbon dioxide. You can think very simply of the placenta as a sponge soaked in a pool of maternal blood within the sidewall of the uterus and attached by the umbilical cord to the fetus. In actuality it is active biochemically, hormonally and immunologically, a very complex organ. Two membranes which grow out of the placenta, the inner amniotic and the outer chorionic, surround the fetus and the amniotic fluid in which it grows.

The placenta must stay attached to the wall of the uterus until shortly after delivery or problems arise. “Placenta previa” means that the placenta extends at least partially over the inner opening of the cervix, making vaginal delivery impossible and cesarean mandatory. Patients with placenta previa after about 28 weeks are prone to vaginal bleeding and pre-term labor. However, while as many as 40% of placentas are “previa” on the second trimester ultrasound, only 1-4% are a problem at term, due to the growth of the lower uterine segment.

If the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus prematurely, it is called a “placental abruption.” If more than 50% of the placenta separates, it may be fatal to the fetus and cause large amounts of blood loss to the mother. Placental abruption is associated with many factors including cocaine use, pre-eclampsia or toxemia, and trauma.

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