Fetal Hydrothorax

What is fetal hydrothorax?

Fetal hydrothorax occurs when fluid builds up within the fetal chest. The fluid can compress the developing lungs and shift the heart from its usual position (mediastinal shift). Compression of the lungs can interfere with their normal development. Fetal hydrothorax may be detected during a routine ultrasound, and a fetal echocardiogram will show how serious the illness is and the condition of the fetus’s heart.

How does the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford team typically treat fetal hydrothorax?

If the fetal hydrothorax causes severe lung or heart problems, your doctor may recommend thoraco-amniotic shunting. During this procedure, a specialist inserts a small plastic catheter into the fetal chest to drain the fluid into the amniotic cavity. This treatment relieves the pressure within the chest and allows the lungs to develop.

What problems could a fetal hydrothorax cause after birth?

Some babies with significant hydrothorax may have difficulty breathing after delivery and may need fluid around the lung drained by insertion of a tube through the chest.

In other cases, the baby may not have significant respiratory symptoms but may still need monitoring in the NICU. The treatment approach for each patient is individualized based on fetal findings over the course of the pregnancy.