Pregnancy complication made less risky with new procedure

May 14, 2007
A potentially life-threatening complication of pregnancy is getting less risky thanks to a relatively new procedure being done at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. The procedure involves stopping the bleeding that can result from a condition called placenta previa. In placenta previa, the placenta, which supplies nutrients and oxygen to the baby, forms low in the uterus, partially or fully blocking the cervix, or “exit route” to the vagina. The condition makes vaginal delivery dangerous because it can result in severe bleeding. While cesarean section lessens the danger, chances of excessive bleeding and loss of oxygen to the baby remain high. "Placenta previa is a serious condition mainly among women who are older, women carrying two or more babies, or women with a previous Caesarean birth," said Lydia Wright, MD, a Wilmington obstetrician specializing in high-risk obstetrics. "For the mother it's especially concerning because there is potential for major bleeding because of the placenta's highly vascular nature." To help stop the bleeding, interventional radiologists are now performing a procedure called prophylactic pelvic artery balloon catheterization. "Just prior to delivery by C-section, the interventional radiologist introduces balloon-tipped catheters into the pelvic arteries that are the main supply to the uterus," Dr. Wright said. "Then we move to the operating room and perform the C-section, and if there's bleeding as a result of the placenta previa, we just inflate those balloons and the bleeding stops." "In these kinds of pregnancies, we're always concerned about significant bleeding," said Brian Brodwater, MD, a Wilmington interventional radiologist who performs the preoperative balloon placement, often working side by side with Dr. Wright. "With this procedure, we're very quickly and easily able to deploy the balloons, and if we need to stop the bleeding, inflate them.” What results is less blood loss to the mother, less risk to the baby and a surgical field that's fully visible and unobstructed. "We rarely have to inflate the balloons, but when we do, it makes a profound difference in the well-being of mother and baby and our ability to work carefully and methodically without rushing," Dr. Wright said. After delivery, the balloons are withdrawn. “Even though the chance of having to inflate the balloons is low, it’s worth being on the safe side,” Dr. Brodwater said. “This procedure is all about planning ahead to ensure the safety of the mother and the safe delivery of the baby.”For more information on this procedure or for a physician referral, please call VitaLine at 815.5188.