Umbilical cord prolapse: revisiting its definition and management

      Umbilical cord prolapse is an unpredictable obstetrical emergency with an incidence ranging from 1 to 6 per 1000 pregnancies. It is associated with high perinatal mortality, ranging from 23% to 27% in low-income countries to 6% to 10% in high-income countries. In this review, we specifically addressed 3 issues. First, its definition is not consistent in the current literature, and “occult cord prolapse” is a misnomer because the cord is still above the cervix. We proposed that cord prolapse, cord presentation, and compound cord presentation should be classified according to the positional relationship among the cord, the fetal presenting part, and the cervix. All of them may occur with either ruptured or intact membranes. The fetal risk is highest in cord prolapse, followed by cord presentation, and lastly by compound cord presentation, which replaces the misnomer “occult cord prolapse.” Second, the mainstay of treatment of cord prolapse is urgent delivery, which means cesarean delivery in most cases, unless vaginal delivery is imminent. The urgency depends on the fetal heart rate pattern, which can be bradycardia, recurrent decelerations, or normal. It is most urgent in cases with bradycardia, because a recent study showed that cord arterial pH declines significantly with the bradycardia-to-delivery interval at a rate of 0.009 per minute (95% confident interval, 0.0003–0.0180), and this may indicate an irreversible pathology such as vasospasm or persistent cord compression. However, cord arterial pH does not correlate with either deceleration-to-delivery interval or decision-to-delivery interval, indicating that intermittent cord compression causing decelerations is reversible and less risk. Third, while cesarean delivery is being arranged, different maneuvers should be adopted to relieve cord compression by elevating the fetal presenting part and to prevent further cord prolapse beyond the vagina. A recent study showed that the knee-chest position provides the greatest elevation effect, followed by filling of the maternal urinary bladder with 500 mL of fluid, and then the Trendelenburg position (15°) and other maneuvers. However, each maneuver has its own advantages and limitations; thus, they should be applied wisely and with great caution, depending on the actual clinical situation. Therefore, we have proposed an algorithm to guide this acute management.

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