Fetal echogenic gut: a marker of intrauterine gut ischaemia?
The pathophysiological significance of fetal echogenic gut (FEG) is unknown. Our aim was prospectively to evaluate FEG in infants with intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) and absent umbilical artery end diastolic flow velocities. Over a 15 month period, nine infants with FEG met these criteria. Nine infants who, on antenatal assessment, had demonstrated IURG and absent umbilical artery end diastolic flow velocities, but no evidence of FEG, were selected as case-controls. Gastrointestinal function was then prospectively evaluated in both groups after delivery. All liveborn infants received nasogastric feeds of breast milk by 8 days of age. All in the FEG group developed marked abdominal distension, large, bile stained, nasogastric aspirates, and constipation requiring rectal washouts. This led to a discontinuation of enteral feeds on one or more occasions. Two patients in the FEG group required water soluble contrast enemas in order to relieve intestinal obstruction. In the control group, 3/9 patients had abdominal distension, but no rectal washouts were given and enteral feeds were not interrupted. The median (range) time to tolerate full enteral feeds was 15 (7-32) days in the FEG group, compared with 4 (1-8) days in the control group. In the FEG group 5/6 patients required parenteral nutrition for 5-27 days. In the control group one patient required parenteral nutrition over a period of four days only. No child had necrotising enterocolitis or cystic fibrosis. When FEG is observed in the fetus with IUGR, problems with enteral feeding should be anticipated.