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Placental Insufficiency : Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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The placenta is an organ that develops in the womb when women are pregnant. Sometimes, it does not grow as it must or can get injured. The result can be a health condition known as placental insufficiency. The condition is also commonly known as placental dysfunction or uteroplacental vascular insufficiency. It is a severe complication of pregnancy that is uncommon. 

When the placenta does not functions well, it is cannot supply sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the baby from the bloodstream of the mother. Without this essential support, the baby cannot grow and thrive. This can cause premature birth, low birth weight, as well as birth defects, and may also raise the risk of complications for the mother. Early diagnosis of this problem is critical to the health of both mother and the baby.

This blog comprehensively explains placenta dysfunction, its causes, symptoms, complications, and treatment. 

What is placental insufficiency?

Placental insufficiency occurs if the placenta does not develop properly or is injured. If the placenta is injured, it can reduce the blood circulating between the mother’s circulatory system  and the placenta. Thus, it results in the baby getting fewer nutrients than required. It may lead to underdeveloped growth, display symptoms of fetal distress, and difficult labour. This complication can also occur if the woman’s blood supply does not increase sufficiently by mid-pregnancy. 

If the placenta malfunctions, it cannot provide sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the baby from the woman’s bloodstream. Without this critical support, the baby cannot grow and develop well. It may result in premature birth, low birth weight, and congenital disabilities. It also increases the risk of complications for women. Doctors must diagnose this problem early because it is essential for the health of both the woman and the child. 

What are the symptoms of placental insufficiency?

Placental insufficiency is challenging to identify, particularly in first-time pregnancies . There are generally few or no symptoms that are related to placental insufficiency. However, some clues can result in the early diagnosis of this condition. Women can observe the size of their uterus to be smaller than in previous pregnancies, and the fetus can also be less active than anticipated. Vaginal bleeding or preterm labour contractions can also occur with placental insufficiency.

When should women call the doctor? 

Regular antenatal checks are very important at regular intervals . Women must also see the doctor when they have symptoms such as less fetal movements .

What are the causes of placental insufficiency?

The several reasons for placenta insufficiency are as follows:

  • Diabetes
  • Anaemia
  • Smoking
  • Late delivery of the baby
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Some medications (especially blood thinners)
  • Drug abuse (particularly cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines)
  • High blood pressure

Placental insufficiency can also occur when there are specific developmental issues with the placenta. These issues include the following:

  • Bleeding
  • A small placenta
  • Abnormal shape of the placenta

What are the complications of placental insufficiency?

For women 

Placental insufficiency usually is not considered life-threatening for women. However, the risk to their health occurs due to the predisposing causes of placental insufficiency such as hypertension or diabetes. The symptoms of preeclampsia due to hypertension  includes excess weight gain, edema (the swelling of the hands and legs), headaches, and high blood pressure. 

For the baby

When placental insufficiency occurs earlier in pregnancy, the baby’s health problems can be more severe. There are many risks for the baby, including:

Increased risk of oxygen deprivation at birth leading to cerebral palsy and other complications

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • A significantly less amount of blood calcium (hypocalcemia)
  • Excess red blood cells (polycythemia)
  • Premature labour
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cesarean delivery (C-section)
  • Stillbirth
  • Death

How is placental insufficiency treated?

The doctor or obstetrician may postpone delivery when women are pregnant for less than six months, and the examinations indicate that the baby is out of danger. Women may undergo routine tests to ensure the baby continues a healthy, upward development graph

The doctor can induce labour when the pregnancy has progressed beyond the thirty-seventh week or if the baby is in danger. If doctors cannot induce labour with the help of medication, women may have to give birth through a cesarean delivery (C-section).‌

Currently, doctors cannot effectively treat placental insufficiency. However, treating other conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure can assist with the baby’s growth. Once the doctor diagnoses placental insufficiency, they may look for signs of hypertension. 

In such cases, the doctor may recommend bed rest or refer the patient to a specialist who may prescribe certain steroids that can help increase the baby’s lung development. It can boost the baby’s chances of survival when delivered prematurely. The doctor can also prescribe low-dose aspirin and vitamin supplements to help the placenta attach to the uterus. The chief treatment is induced labour when the pregnancy has reached a viable stage.


Early detection is essential in managing placental insufficiency. Women must avoid abusing drugs, smoking, and the consumption of alcohol. They must ensure they get all the required prenatal care. If they have any concerns or worries, they must consult the doctor. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How is placental insufficiency diagnosed?

The doctor can perform tests to detect placental insufficiency. They include:

  • Pregnancy ultrasound for the measurement of the size of the placenta
  • Ultrasound for the examination of the size of the fetus
  • Blood tests for monitoring the baby’s liver health
  • Fetal non stress test for the measurement of the baby’s heart rate and contractions

What is the function of the placenta?

The placenta’s primary function is to:

  • Carry oxygen into the baby’s bloodstream
  • Deliver the nutrients to the baby
  • Move the carbon dioxide away
  • Transfer the waste so that the woman’s body disposes of it

The placenta also has a critical role in hormone production. Additionally, it offers protection to the fetus from infections.

What is the outlook for women suffering from placental insufficiency?

Placenta insufficiency may result in providing the baby with less oxygen and nutrients. It may affect the development and the growth of the baby.

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