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Year : 2009  |  Volume : 53  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 554-559 Table of Contents     

Anaesthesia for Fetal Surgeries

Professor, Department of Anesthesiology & Intensive care, Maulana Azad Medical college, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication3-Mar-2010

Correspondence Address:
Kirti N Saxena
B-302, Geetanjali Apartments, Vikas Marg Extension, New Delhi- 110092
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 20640105

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The concept of the fetus as a patient has evolved from prenatal diagnosis and serial observation of fetuses with anatomical abnormalities.. Surgical intervention is considered when a fetus presents with a congenital lesion that can compromise or disturb vital function or cause severe postnatal morbidity. Hydronephrosis, saccrococcygeal ter­atoma, hydrocephalus, meningomyelocoele and diaphragmatic hernia are some of the defects that can be diagnosed by imaging and are amenable to intervention.
The combination of underdeveloped organ function and usually life-threatening congenital malformation places the fetus at a considerable risk. Fetal surgery also leads to enhanced surgical and anaesthetic risk in the mother including haemon - hage, infection, airway difficulties and amniotic fluid embolism.
There are 3 basic types of surgical interventions: 1.Ex utero intrapartum treatment(EHIT), 2.Midgestation open procedures, 3.Minimally invasive midgestation procedures. These procedures require many manipulations and moni­toring in both the mother and the unborn fetus.

Keywords: Fetal surgery, Fetal interventions

How to cite this article:
Saxena KN. Anaesthesia for Fetal Surgeries. Indian J Anaesth 2009;53:554-9

How to cite this URL:
Saxena KN. Anaesthesia for Fetal Surgeries. Indian J Anaesth [serial online] 2009 [cited 2021 Mar 3];53:554-9. Available from: https://www.ijaweb.org/text.asp?2009/53/5/554/60333

   Introduction Top

The concept of the fetus as a patient has evolved from prenatal diagnosis and serial observation of fe­tuses with anatomical abnormalities. Rh isoimmunisation provided the first successful example of fetal interven­tion wherein intravenous bloodtransfusion was under­taken in ahydropic fetus. Since then several fetal medi­cal interventions like prenatal bone marrow transplan­tation and prenatal induction of lung maturity have been done. [1] The use of prenatal means of diagnosing ana­tomical defects is increasing with ultrasound and fetal magnetic resonance imaging. Surgical intervention is considered when a fetus presents with a congenital le­sion that can compromise or disturb vital function or cause severe postnatal morbidity. Hydronephrosis, saccrococcygeal teratoma, hydrocephalus, meningomyelocoele and diaphragmatic hernia are some of the defects that can be diagnosed by imaging and are amenable to intervention [2] .

Correcting an anatomical malformation in utero with open fetal surgery jeopardizes the pregnancy and entails potential surgical and anaesthetic risks to the mother as well as the fetus. For this reason fetal sur­gery remains limited to conditions which if allowedto continue , would irreversibly interfere with fetal organ development but which if alleviated, would allow nor­mal development to proceed. Malformations that qualify for consideration of fetal surgery should satisfy the fol­lowing prerequisites:

  1. Prenatal diagnostic techniques should identify the malformation and exclude other lethal malformations with a high degree of certainty.
  2. The defect should have a defined natural history and cause progressive injury to the fetus that is irre­versible after delivery.
  3. Repair ofthe defect should be feasible and should reverse or prevent the injury process.
  4. Surgical repair must not entail excessive riskto the mother or her future fertility

If new surgical techniques, physiological support systems and tocolytic therapy can reduce fetal and ma­ternal risk to that of elective postnatal surgery, indica­tions for fetal surgery may be liberalized.

   Risks Top

The combination of underdeveloped organ func­tion and usually life-threatening congenital malforma­tion places the fetus at a considerable risk. Surgery and anaesthesia lead to significant risks to the fetus and can result in fetal death and morbidity .Altered coagulation factors predispose the fetus to bleeding and cause dif­ficulty in achieving surgical haemostasis during fetal surgery. This problem is compounded bythe small blood volume ofthe fetus . Fetal surgery can result in prema­ture labor and birth. Initially surgeries were only per­formed in cases of impending fetal death. With the ad­vancements in anaesthetic and surgical techniques, the risks have decreased and the indications broadened.

Fetal surgery also leads to enhanced surgical and anaesthetic risk in the mother including haemorrhage, infection, airway difficulties and amniotic fluid embo­lism. OnlyASAclass land II mothers with very sick fetuses are taken up for fetal surgery .Fetal saccrococcygeal tumour leads to the `maternal mirror syndrome', wherein the mother experiences progres­sive symptoms ofpreecclampsia due to release of toxins from the placenta .This syndrome is terminated by de­livery of the fetus and placenta but not bythe excision of the tumour.

   Fetal surgery Top

There are 3 basic types of surgical interventions:

1.Ex utero intrapartum treatment(EXIT) [3]

These are also known as OOPS i.e, operation on placental support. These interventions are performed on vaginal delivery or caesarean section. Only a por­tion ofthe fetus is delivered and brief procedures such as endotracheal intubation or examination of neck mass done while the fetus is still connected to the placenta through the umbilical cord .Only brief procedures were possible as placental support rarely lasts for more than 10 minutes during routine births. Techniques are being evolved to allow placental support to continue for an hour or longer. It is possible to secure airway in cases ranging from cystic hygroma to complete high airway obstruction syndrome. The following procedures are being done as EXIT procedures:

[Additional file 1]

2.Midgestation open procedures

Recognition offoetal defect in early pregnancy allows intervention in midgestationto prevent irrevers­ible damage or development of secondary disease.Hysterotomy is required to access the foetus who is returned to the uterus after completion of sur­gery for the rest ofthe gestation. Fetal surgery is per­formed through a low transverse abdominal incision. Placental location is determined by ultrasonography and a wide uterine incision is given by a specially designed absorbable stapler for performing bloodless hystero­tomy. The fetal part is exteriorized for surgery and after completion of the surgery the fetus is placed back into the uterus which is closed.

The fetus continues to grow for the rest of the gestation with reversal of the disease process that prompted the fetal intervention. Example is repair of meningomyelocoele at 22 weeks of gestation to pre­vent damage to central nervous system tissues due to prolonged exposure to amniotic fluid. The sequelae of bladder and bowel dysfunction and clubfeet may be prevented. The indications for open midgestation fetal surgery are

[Additional file 2]

3. Minimally invasive midgestation procedures [4]

Because the uterus is a fluid filled organ, small endoscopes allow excellent visualization of fetal and placental structures as long as uterine distention is main­tained with irrigating fluid. These are basically of 2 types:

1.Fetendo procedures - Aberrant placental ves­sels providing imbalance of blood flow to twins can be identified and ligated in this way to prevent fetal death due to twin-twin transfusion syndmme.Other surgeries possible with this technique are radiofrequency abla­tion or coagulation of nonviable twin's umbilical cord in twin reversed arterial perfusion and division of amni­otic bands in amniotic band syndrome. Using fetoscopy, these aberrant vessels and bands can be identified and coagulated. Fetal procedures, such as fetal cystoscopy with laser ablation of posterior urethral valves, are also now technically possible and are being undertaken.

2. FIGS-IT- This is a term used for fetal image­guided surgery for intervention or therapy, and describes the method of manipulating the fetus without either an incision inthe uterus or an endoseopic view inside the uterus. The manipulation is done entirely under real­time cross-sectional view provided bythe sonogram. This is the same sonogram as is used for diagnostic purposes, but inthis case is usedto guide instruments. Like Fetendo, it can be done either through the mother's skin or, in some cases, with a small opening in the mother's abdomen. It can often be done under a re­gional anaesthesia like an epidural or a spinal, or even under local anaesthesia. This is the least invasive ofthe fetal access techniques and, thus, causes the least prob­lem for mother in terms of hospitalization and discom­fort.

Anaesthetic goals of fetal surgery

Maternal anaesthetic considerations

Anaesthetic plan must accommodate all the physi­ological changes ofpregnancy. Pregnancy affects ma­ternal pulmonary and cardiovascular function. There is increased demand of oxygen so adequate precautions should be taken to prevent hypoxaemia and aspiration. Decreases in capillary oncotic pressure and increases in capillary permeability increase the risk of pulmonary edema special ly when magnesium sulphate is used for tocolysis.Left uterine displacement to prevent aortocaval compression must be done. Doses of an­aesthetic agents should take the increased sensitivity of the parturient into consideration.

Fetal anaesthetic considerations

Fisk et a1 [5] demonstrated increased cortisol, beta­endorphins, and the "central sparing response" in a 23 week old human fetus needled in the hepatic (inner­vated) vein. 10mcg.kg -1 fentanyl suppressed the beta­endorphin and cortisol responses but not the central sparing response to this noxious stimulus. Forthe first time it was demonstrated that the human fetal stress response was attenuated by the administration of a nar­cotic. Long-term effects of fetal stress have also been described. Independent groups have implicated fetal stress to exaggerated pain responses in eight week-old infants and have also implicated the fetal stress response as a contributorto pre-terns labor.

There is need for fetal anaesthesia in contrast to caesarean section where a vigorous baby is desirable on delivery. Placental transfer of of anaesthetic agents to the fetus is a desirable effect of maternal anaesthe­sia. The fetus requires less muscle relaxant and anaes­thetic agent. Although inhaled anaesthetics, rapidly cross the placenta ,fetal levels remain below maternal levels for a prolonged period of time.

Less cardiac contractile tissue leads to depres­sion from volatile anaesthetic [6] Anaesthetic-induced decreases in contractility combined with fetal surgical manipulations can result in hypotension, bradycardia, and eventual cardiac collapse. Because of low circulating blood volume and rate dependent cardiac output, surgical blood loss is poorly tolerated so trigger fortransfusion is low.Thin fetal skin predis­poses fetus to hypothermia so active warming is re­quired during exposure from uterus. Hypothermia can be minimized by limiting fetal surgical time and use of warm irrigating fluids.

Maintenance of uteroplacental circulation is vital for successful outcome of the procedure. Fetal oxy­genation is dependent on both blood oxygenation and placental bloodflow. Uterine tone increases during contractions and this increases vascular resistance Since uteroplacental flow is influenced by vascular re­sistance therefore uterus must remain relaxed. Kinking of umbilical cord must be avoided and corrected if this has occurred during changing position of the fetus to facilitate blood flow. Increase ofmaternal pH and hy­pocaprua result in reduced umbilical blood flow and fetal hypoxia.

Preoperative prepamtion [3]

Preanaesthetic checkup is done to evaluate the mother with special emphasis on maternal and family history of anaesthetic problems, airway evaluation and concurrent medical problems.The placental location and fetal cardiovascular function are evaluated by ultra­sonography, echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging.

The patient is admitted on the day of surgery after being nil orally. The operating room is warmed to 80°F and type specific packed red cells for the mother and o-negative packed red cells for the fetus are made available. Monitors include two pulse oximeters ,an arterial pressure transducer and cardiac monitor forthe mother sodium bicitrate is given orally and metoclopramide given intravenously as prophylaxis for aspiration. Anindomethacin suppository is administered forpostoperative tocolysis in midgestation procedures.

The fetal care team consists of obstetricians, pe­diatricians, surgeons specializing in fetal surgery and anaesthesiologists. Intensive care facilities for both mother and neonate are available.

Fetal monitoring [6]

For procedures where the fetal extremity is ac­cessible, a pulse oximeter probe is placed on the limb and wrapped with foil to decrease interference with ambient light. Normal fetal arterial saturation is 60-70% and values above 40% during surgery represent ad­equate saturation.

Echocardiography is used to monitor fetal heart rate and stroke volume. Fetal arterial or venous blood gas samples may be obtained bythe surgeons percuta­neously or through umbilical or central vessel puncture. Warmed, fresh o-negative blood can be administered to the fetus to correct anaemia.

Anaesthetic plan for Fetal Surgery Procedures

Ex Utero Intrapartum Treatment Procedures

EXIT procedures require maternal laparotomy and hysterotomy while maintaining uteroplacental cir­culation. General anaesthesia is preferable as it accom­plishes both maternal and fetal anaesthesia. [7]

Adequate preoxygenation is followed by rapid sequence induction. Desirable uterine atony can be maintained with high concentrations of volatile anaesthetics . However, this leads to maternal hypoten­sion which is treated by intravenous fluids and sym­pathomimetics to maintain mean arterial pressure to within 20% ofthe baseline to preserve uteroplacental blood flow.

Following uterine incision, the operative site of the fetus is delivered through the hysterotomy. Care is taken to prevent kinking of the umbilical cord.Fetal monitor­ing with pulse oximetry and echocardiography are un­dertaken. Before start of the intervention, fetal anaes­thesia is supplemented by intramuscular or intravenous injection ofvecuronium and fentanyl. If blood loss is high then the surgeon can perform intravenous cannu­lation of the fetus to give drugs and fluids. Good fetal anaesthesia relieves fetal stress and ensures good op­erating conditions.

Endotracheal intubation may be undertaken in the fetus with severe cardiac defects to prevent hypoxaermia at birth. Placement of an LIMA can be done ifthe fetus has an airway problem and tracheostorny performed following delivery.

After completion of the procedure the infant is delivered, the umbilical cord divided and the baby placed inthe care ofaneonatologist. Following this the uterine atonyis reversed by reducing the concentration of volatile anaesthetic and giving methergin .Adequate replacement offluids must be done since EXIT proce­dures are more prone to blood loss than caesarean sec­tion. An epidural catheter may be placed for postop­erative analgesia in the mother:

After surgerythere are two patients to be cared for, and a second operating room should be available in case further surgery is needed in the neonate.

Mid gestation Open fetal Surgery

This is similar to the EXIT procedures as far as the exposure of the fetus is concerned but is done in the second trimester. Since the fetus is returned to the uterus after completion ofthe intervention, the parturi­ent requires tocolysis and fluid restriction.

The mother is induced by rapid sequence tech­nique . An arterial catheter is placed before increasing the concentration of volatile anaesthetic upto two and ahalf MACS. Fetal monitoring is done with pulse oxim­etry and echocardiography. Fetal analgesia may be supplemented with intravenous or intramurscular medi­cation. After completion ofthe intervention the fetus is returned to the uterus The amniotic fluid is replaced by warned Ringer's solution containing antibiotics and the uterus closed.

Aggressive tocolysis is initiated after conclusion of the fetal procedure with an intravenous infusion of magnesium sulphate to prevent reflex uterine contrac­tions. These can result in reduced uteroplacental blood flow and result in premature labor. Magnesium sulphate can increase the risk of pulmonary edema which can be managed by the use of adrenergic agents .Magne­sium sulphate also increases sensitivity to muscle relax­ants hence neuromuscular monitoring should be done.

In the postoperative period, the mother is mater­nal-fetal intensive care unit. Uterine activity and fetal heart rate are continuously monitored by tocodynamometry. Use of an epidural catheter reduces the maternal stress response and incidence of early preterm labor [8] .

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Most procedures can be done with large bore needle under ultrasound imaging or a 5-mm trocar: The fetal surgerytrocar has a camera and a port for a laser fibre tocoagulate placental vessels in twin-twin trans­fusion syndrome .In fetoscopy, normal saline irrigation is used inside the uterus. The maternal incision is small and such procedures can be performed under local anaesthesia with infiltration of both skin and peritoneum. Epidural, spinal or combined spinal-epidural anaesthe­sia can be used [9] .

Intravenous sedation should be given for mater­nal anxiolysis for fetoscopy because of the emotional nature of surgery and the awkward position of the mother. Midazolarm, fentanyl, remifentanil orpropofol infusion may be used but deep sedation should be avoided to prevent aspiration. The uterus is irrigated with normal saline in this procedure and this can be absorbed. This fluid can also enter the peritoneal cav­ity through the  Fallopian tube More Detailss from where it can be absorbed. This can lead to pulmonary edema as the patient is also receivingtocolytics. This canbe treated with diuretics and may be anticipated when the volume of irrigating fluid is much highertliari the returning fluid. Most fetoscopy procedures involve manipulation of placenta and umbilical cord and there is no fetal inci­sion therefore fetal anesthesia is not required. [10]

The Future

Fetal surgery is a new field that is expanding rap­idly. Currently it is being done only in few centers in the world . Ariaesthetists are an important part ofthe team and specialized txa.ining is required forfetal anaesthe­sia. This is a rapidly evolving field and some controver­sies still need to be resolved. Standardised assessment tools andblood microsampling techniques forthe fetus need to be developed to allow further development of clinical protocols. Questions regarding fetal stress and optimal drug do sing in the fetus remain open to specu­lationuntil these techniques evolve to answer our ques­tions. In line with the trend inthe adult, neonatal mini­mally invasive congenital heart surgery has become an important area of interest [11] .

   References Top

1.Liley AW.Intrauterine transfusion of foetus in haemolytic disease.BMJ 1963;5365:1 107-1109.  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.Flake AW. Fetal therapy. In Maternal-Fetal medicine .2004.Published by Saunders 5 th Edition: 1244.  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Robinson MB.Frontiers in fetal surgery anesthesia .In International Anaesthesiology Clinics.2006.Published by Lippincott,Williams and Wilkins.Uolume44;No.1:1­15.  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.http://fetus.ucsfmedicalcenter.org/our team/ fetal intervention asp.  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.FiskN, GitauR, TiexeiraJ, et al. Effect of directopioid analgesia on fetal hormonal and hemodynamic stress response to intrauterine needling. Anesthesiology 2001 ; 95:828-35.  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.GalinkinJL,SchwarzU,MotoyamaEKAnesthesiafor fetal surgery. In Smith's anesthesia for infants and chil­dren.2006 Published by Mosby.7 th Edition:509-20  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.Rosen M. Anesthesia for fetal procedures and surgery. In: Schnider SM, Levinson G, eds. Anesthesia for Ob­stetrics, 3rd Ed. Baltimore: Williams& Wilkins, 1993:281­295.  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.Gaiser RR, Kurth CD. Anesthetic considerations for fetal surgery. SeminPerinatol 1999; 23: 507-514.  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Bulich LA, Jennings RW.Intrauterine fetal manipulation. In Anaesthetic and obstetric management of high risk pregnancy2004. Published by Springer3 rd Edition:33-44.  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Cromblehoholme TM.Surgical treatment of the fetus.Fanaroff and Martin's: Neonatal perinatal medicine.2006.Published by Mosby ; 8 th Ed:231-254.  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.Wittkope MM. Interventional fetal cardiac therapy-pos­sible perspectives and current shortcomings. Ultrasound Obstet Gyneco12002; 20: 527-531 .  Back to cited text no. 11      


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