How Common Is Placental Insufficiency?

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Placental insufficiency is a rare disease that occurs in only 33 out of 100,000 women worldwide, according to the Orphanet list of rare diseases. Also known as placental dysfunction or uteroplacental vascular insufficiency, this pregnancy complication results in the placenta failing to support a developing fetus.

If placental insufficiency occurs, it can cause high blood pressure in the mother (preeclampsia), and growth restriction in the fetus. Preeclampsia can lead to adverse neonatal conditions, neurological irregularities, preterm birth, and possibly stillbirth.

What Is Placenta?

The placenta is a flat, circular organ that develops at the beginning of a pregnancy to support the development of an unborn child. It is located in a pregnant woman’s uterus (or womb).

The placenta’s job is to remove waste materials and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the bloodstream of the fetus through the umbilical cord. If an inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients fail to reach the fetus, it is referred to as placental insufficiency.

What Causes Placental Insufficiency?

There are various causes of placental insufficiency; some are caused by pregnancy complications, others are due to social habits. The most common causes of placental insufficiency include:

  • Blood clotting in the mother
  • Diabetes
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Smoking
  • Using drugs, including cocaine
  • Taking blood thinner medications
  • Carrying the baby past the due date

Placental insufficiency can also occur if the placenta:

  • Has an abnormal shape.
  • Does not grow big enough (if the mother is carrying twins or multiples).
  • Does not attach to the uterine surface correctly.
  • Tears away from the uterus.

What Are the Symptoms of Placental Insufficiency?

Placental insufficiency itself usually has no obvious symptoms associated with it, but there are subtle signs which can be easy to miss, especially for first-time pregnancies.

Less Active Fetus

A developing fetus may be less active than normal if adequate nutrition is not being delivered through the placenta.

Smaller Belly

As the pregnancy progresses, placental insufficiency can limit the growth of the fetus, this results in smaller-than-normal abdominal growth for the mother.


Placental insufficiency may be associated with other conditions including preeclampsia. This pregnancy condition can cause:

  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Edema, or swelling of the legs and hands
  • Premature delivery

Standard of Care for Placental Insufficiency

Standard of care is a term used to describe treatment that the medical community agrees is the most beneficial for a given disease or condition. Once your obstetrician recognizes signs of placental insufficiency, he or she should closely monitor the health of both you and your unborn child and induce delivery between 34 and 37 weeks.

Placental insufficiency that goes undiagnosed or is improperly treated can lead to severe health problems for a child both before and after birth. Babies born before 34 weeks often do not have adequate lung development to survive on their own. After 37 weeks, the oxygen deprivation that results from placental insufficiency can cause brain injury or even death.

Consider contacting a birth injury lawyer if you feel your obstetrician or other healthcare provider violated your standard of care when treating your placental insufficiency.

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