Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Placenta Is Low-Lying. Now What?

Now that most pregnant women have a midpregnancy ultrasound, they are often alerted to findings of uncertain significance. One of the most common of these involves the placenta. A placenta is low-lying when the lower edge extends to within 2 centimeters of the internal cervical opening or os. This is different from a placenta previa which actually covers the internal os. A group of investigators at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reported on their experience with the eventual outcome of pregnancies complicated by these low placentas.

Here's the short answer: Most of these situations resolve by the end of the pregnancy.

In total, 1220 of 1240 low-lying placentas (98.4%) that had sonographic follow up resolved to no previa before delivery; 89.9% of placentas cleared the cervix by 32 weeks, and 95.9% cleared by 36 weeks.

A small minority were not so lucky.

Twenty patients (1.6%) had persistent sonographic placenta previa or a low-lying placenta at or near term, including 5 complete previas, 7 marginal previas, 5 low-lying placentas, and 3 vasa previas; all had cesarean deliveries.

So, about 98/100 times all turns out well. In about 2/100 cases, the situation persists. Moreover, a very few unfortunate women were found to have vasa previa, a condition in which fetal blood vessels actually cross that internal os in front of the baby. Think about that for a moment. If the baby descends toward the birth canal and puts pressure on these blood vessels, those vessels can tear, resulting in a fetal hemorrhage, often severe.

So what should be the plan if they do find a low-lying placenta during your ultrasound? The authors suggest a repeat sonogram after 28-30 weeks to confirm resolution, repeating again at 34-36 weeks if the situation remains the same. During those studies, a search for vasa previa can also be conducted.

So if you're told you have a low-lying placenta, you should be optimistic but should follow up. The late Ronald Reagan said it best: "Trust but verify."

For more information or to schedule an ultrasound, please call: (718) 925-6277.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New UK Project To Improve Prenatal Detection of Birth Defects

Presently, most if not all pregnant women undergo at least two sonograms during pregnancy for the purpose of screening for serious birth defects - the first at 11.5 - 14 weeks and the second at about 20 weeks. While some abnormalities are virtually always detected, many still are missed for a variety of reasons. For one thing, mom's with increased weight gain pose a technical imaging problem as the ultrasound frequency necessary for sufficient penetration may not yield the optimal resolution. Another factor is the fetal position - "if the baby has his back to the camera, you don't get a good picture." For these reasons and more, a groups of investigators at Kings College London are trying to see if technology can solve these issues.

Professor Reza Razavi and colleagues at King's College London, as part of King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, have been awarded funding under the joint Wellcome Trust and EPSRC Innovative Engineering for Health scheme to develop a fully automated and computer-guided ultrasound system, which will allow midwives to acquire three-dimensional images of a whole baby in a much higher resolution than is currently possible. The team are also aiming to develop computer software that will be able to automatically analyse the images acquired. These techniques should substantially improve detection rates of congenital abnormalities.

Professor Razavi, who is Head of Imaging Sciences at King's College London and Director of Research at King's Health Partners, said: "Identifying birth defects at an early stage is essential both for medical professionals and for the parents themselves. Current ultrasound scans are relatively crude and many serious abnormalities are not detected, leading to these babies becoming very ill soon after birth, and substantial delay before a diagnosis is made and they can be transferred to a specialist centre for appropriate treatment.

"We are developing a radically new approach to fetal screening, largely removing the need for experts to acquire and interpret the images. It will allow the initial screening scans to be done in a few minutes, and provide a consistently higher detection rate for major abnormalities."

I wish them well.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for an ultrasound, call: (718) 925-6277.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Irregular Cycles May Be More Than An Annoyance

It's been a theory that infrequent ovulation may have some beneficial effect at lessening the risk for ovarian cancer. Women who take oral contraceptives, for example, have a lower incidence. This protective effect of irregular cycles may not always hold true. At the recent American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting, Barbara Cohn, Director of Child Health and Development Studies at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, CA presented some evidence that irregular cycles may actually be a risk factor for later development of ovarian cancer.

Background. Early detection of ovarian cancer has proved elusive, resulting in poor survival. This is the first prospective study to link a common reproductive condition to risk. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder, characterized by irregular menstrual cycles with long-term health consequences. Although some women with PCOS are infertile, the majority achieve pregnancy. It has been suggested that women with less frequent ovulation are protected, however, previous reports are inconsistent. Here we examine whether irregular cycling is associated with subsequent ovarian cancer death in a large prospective pregnancy cohort, The Child Health and Development Studies.

Methods. Subjects were 14,403 pregnant women recruited from the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan in 1959-1967 and followed for over 50 years. Menstrual irregularity, cycles >35 days or anovulation, was a proxy for PCOS, identified from medical record and self-report, at a median age of 26 years in 13% of women. Linkage to California Vital Statistics and National Death Index records identified 64 ovarian cancer deaths diagnosed at a median age of 69 years.

Results. Contrary to expectations, women with irregular cycles had a two-fold greater risk of ovarian cancer (Hazard Ratio=2.4; 95% Confidence Interval=1.3,4.5), independent of age, race, parity, and weight. This association was specific to cancer of the ovary - no association was observed for breast or uterine cancer - and it increased over the follow-up period (p=0.08 for time-dependence).

Conclusions. This is the first large prospective study of irregular cycles as an early marker of ovarian cancer. If confirmed, women with irregular cycles could be targeted for screening. This finding offers a strategy to search for antecedent ovarian cancer biomarkers, creating the opportunity for new early detection strategies.

It's not clear what exactly is going on here. Could later cancer be a side effect of abnormal hormone fluctuations? Could this be a receptor issue in the ovary iteslf? Or could the underlying cause of the hormone pathophysiology be the culprit? It's far too soon to know the answer but further research is clearly needed.

At this point, the best advice is to discuss your concerns with your gynecologist. For more information or to schedule an appointment for a pelvic ultrasound, please call: (718) 925-6277.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Maternal Weight And Stillbirth

This past week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a statistical analysis of 38 studies of moms' weight either prior to pregnancy or in early pregnancy showed a relationship between maternal BMI and risk of stillbirth. The loss of a wanted pregnancy at any gestational age is tragic but the worst has to be a fetal death in the few weeks prior to birth. The nursery has been set up. The birth announcements prepared. Often, the room is packed with gifts from the baby shower. All this adds to the immense suffering of the loss of a child.

So how is maternal weight linked to stillbirth? The authors suggest the possibility that the increased amount of adipose tissue may exert metabolic effects which affect placental function. We already know the effect of weight, fat, and type 2 diabetes, for example. A similar altered biology may be at work here as well. Another possibility is that heavier women become less sensitive to fetal movement and are thus less apt to pick up on the signals of decreasing fetal movement. The lack of this alarm mechanism may miss that narrow window for life-saving intervention.

So what should a woman considering having a baby do in light of this information? The best, obviously, is to get as close to ideal body weight as possible prior to conception. When this is not possible, early prenatal care would be essential, with a special emphasis to nutritional counseling. As pregnancy enters the "home stretch," certain tests of fetal well-being can be considered - monitoring or non-stress tests, serial ultrasounds for fetal growth, and biophysical profiles. Additionally, fetal kick counts can be done at home which require no sophisticated equipment.

Moms to be should voice any concerns with their Obstetricians. For more information, or to schedule an appointment for an ultrasound, you can call my office at: (718) 925 - 6277.

Friday, April 18, 2014

JWoww's Pregnancy Scare

Jenni Farley aka JWoww of "Jersey Shore" fame (or infamy) described the impact of learning about a minor abnormality in her prenatal ultrasound.

Jenni reported on her blog recently that a routine ultrasound turned into a moment of pure terror when her doctor informed her that he identified what may be a cyst on the fetus' brain. "At this point I honestly can't tell you what he's saying because I go numb and tears are just flowing," Jenni wrote of the incident. A scary diagnosis, to be sure, but using her trademark tenacity, Jenni secured an appointment with a specialist who delivered some good news: Jenni writes that the new doc informed her: "It's called choroid plexus cyst and over time the cyst should go away." She added, "Honestly I was happy but still my heart felt heavy. And even though I know I did nothing to cause it, I felt guilty and so helpless." Well, apparently Jenni has developed a skill for suspenseful storytelling during her months of sobriety because she ends the blog post by revealing that this all happened several weeks ago: "Fast forward to this check-up which brings me to 25 weeks aka 6 months," JWoww writes. "My daughter's cyst went away!"

There are a variety of findings whose significance seems relatively minor to obstetricians and sonographers yet strike fear in the hearts of moms to be. Choroid plexus cyst is one of these findings. Choroid plexus cyst or CPC is a small fluid-filled structure found in the choroid tissue in the ventricle of the developing fetal brain. CPC's are found in about 1 - 2% of all fetuses so these are quite common. While earlier descriptions found an association between CPC and Trisomy 18 (an extra copy of chromosome 18,) this association has not panned out in further investigations. CPC's do not cause swelling on the brain or hydrocephaly. They are not in and of themselves a major abnormality and have no effect on mental development. In the absence of other risk factors for chromosome problems, eg. age, family history, previously affected children, or other malformations, these should not warrant either worry or further investigation. In fact, most, as in Ms. Farley's case, resolve spontaneously.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please call my office: (718)-925-6277.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bloody Cycles

The transition to menopause is thought to consist of increasingly prolonged intervals between menstrual flow. The recently published SWAN study, however, suggests that early in that transition, the frequency of heavier and longer cycles may be far more common.

... We found that the large majority of women in SWAN, over 50% of whom were not white, reported menses duration of 10+ days, spotting of 6+ days and/or 3+ days of heavy bleeding during the MT. The likelihood of experiencing these menstrual bleeding events varied by race/ethnicity, BMI and reported uterine fibroids. These data confirm that two types of bleeding, longer menses with more days of spotting and heavier menses, occur in most women during the MT. These data provide clinicians and women with important normative data regarding the expected frequency of these bleeding changes during the menopausal transition, data that may facilitate decision-making in clinical practice. Such information, particularly when coupled with the emerging information about duration of the stages of the menopausal transition, will be of great value to women in this life-stage who wish to be active participants in their own health care. Such normative data can greatly alleviate concerns about midlife changes in ones bleeding patterns and facilitate coping with what, in most cases, will probably be a time-limited experience. Further research on the correlation between such bleeding and documented pathology is warranted to better support recommendations for watchful waiting versus clinical intervention.

Changes may be marked by differences in estrogen and progesterone production, signifying either greater or fewer ovulatory episodes. These changes may also signify underlying pathology such as uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, polyps or even hyperplasia. The last is especially troubling as prolonged estrogen stimulation without the periodic interjection of progesterone may lead not only to unscheduled bleeding but in a few cases, cancer.

A transvaginal sonogram is a simple test to gauge the thickness of the endometrial lining and should be considered as an integral part of the workup for abnormal bleeding. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, you can call my office at North Shore LIJ: (718) 925-6277.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


It's really something when you receive props from your peers. Over the weekend, the Medical Society of the State of New York had its annual House of Delegates. At that meeting, officers were elected. One of the new officers is yours truly.

Tarrytown, NY (4/14/14)--Arthur C. Fougner, MD, was elected Assistant Secretary of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) at its 208th annual House of Delegates (HOD) meeting in Tarrytown, NY, on April 12. Board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Fougner is Chief of Gynecologic Ultrasound at North Shore LIJ.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Fougner earned his MD degree from Tulane University School of Medicine. He completed his postdoctoral training in OB-GYN at St. Clare's Hospital, NYU Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital and Booth Memorial Medical Center.

An attending OB-GYN at North Shore University Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Forest Hills Hospital, Dr. Fougner is an assistant professor of OB-GYN at the Hofstra North Shore- LIJ School of Medicine at Hofstra University and formerly an assistant clinical professor at SUNY Stony Brook and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Fougner is a member of the International Society for Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology and of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.

Active in organized medicine since 1979, Dr. Fougner served as MSSNY's Commissioner of Communications from 2012-2013. He previously served as MSSNY's Assistant Commissioner of Public Health from 2009-2010 and Commissioner of Governmental Affairs from 2010-2012. He serves as both a trustee and a Councilor for the Medical Society of Queens.

Founded in 1807, the Medical Society of the State of New York is the state's principal non-profit professional organization for physicians, residents and medical students of all specialties. Its mission is to represent the interests of patients and physicians to assure quality healthcare services for all.

I guess every organization needs a Marv Throneberry.

I am truly humbled.