Placental vascular malperfusion lesions in fetal congenital heart disease


      Fetuses with congenital heart disease are at increased risk of perinatal morbidity and mortality, which is highly influenced by their prenatal health. Placental function is vital for the health of the fetus, but increased rates of pathologic lesions of the placenta have been observed in pregnancies complicated by fetal congenital heart disease.


      This study aimed to determine the prevalence of both gross and histologic placental pathologies in a cohort of pregnancies complicated by fetal congenital heart disease vs healthy controls using the Amsterdam Placental Workshop Group Consensus Statement sampling and definitions of placental lesions.

      Study Design

      This single-center retrospective cohort study included placental examinations from pregnancies diagnosed prenatally with fetal congenital heart disease between 2010 and 2019; moreover, control placentas were collected from pregnancies without maternal or fetal complications. Placentas were sampled and evaluated according to the Amsterdam Placental Workshop Group Consensus Statement and gross and histopathologic diagnoses determined.


      Approximately 80% of fetuses diagnosed with congenital heart disease (n=305) had a placental examination for comparison with controls (n=40). Of note, 239 placentas (78%) in the group with fetal congenital heart disease had at least 1 gross or histopathologic lesion compared with 11 placentas (28%) in the control group (P<.01). One-third of placentas complicated by fetal congenital heart disease met the criteria for small for gestational age, and 48% of placentas had one or more chronic lesions, including maternal vascular malperfusion (23% vs 0%; P<.01), villitis of unknown etiology (22% vs 0%; P<.01), fetal vascular malperfusion (20% vs 0%; P<.01), and other chronic lesions (16% vs 0%; P<.01). Acute inflammation was equally present in both the group with fetal congenital heart disease and the control group (28% vs 28%; P=1.00). Although gestational age and birthweight z score were similar between the 2 groups, birth head circumference was 1.5 cm less in pregnancies complicated by fetal congenital heart disease with a significantly lower z score compared with the control group (−0.52±1.22 vs 0.06±0.69; P<.01).


      Vascular malperfusion lesions and chronic forms of inflammation occur at markedly higher rates in placentas complicated by fetal congenital heart disease, which may contribute to the decreased head circumference at birth. Further work in neuroplacentology is needed to explore connections among cardiac defects, placental vascular malperfusion lesions, and fetal brain development.

      Key words

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