Antenatal detection of cystic hygroma

Maimon M. Cohen, Stuart Schwartz, Marcia F. Schwartz, Miriam G. Blitzer, Leslie J. Raffel, C. Lynn Mullins-Keene, C. C.J. Sun, Karin J. Blakemore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Ultrasonographic evaluation, as a routine component of prenatal care, has significantly contributed to in utero assessment of pregnancy status. The detection of fetal abnormalities by ultrasound, however, has raised clinical questions and created parental dilemmas concerning the outcomes of such pregnancies. A relatively frequent anomaly observed on routine ultrasonographic examination is the posterior nuchal cystic hygroma. We report the prenatal detection of 16 cases of cystic hygromata and an analysis of a survey of the world’s literature including an additional 155 cases. The information available from these 171 cases allows a clearer picture of the prognosis for fetuses in whom posterior cystic hygroma is detected in utero. Regarding outcome, 73.2 per cent of cases were terminated at the parents’ request; 37 cases (22.6 per cent) resulted in fetal death in utero prior to any intervention. Only 7 per cent of continuing pregnancies resulted in live-born infants. Of the 142 cases with available cytogenetic findings, 22 per cent had normal karyotypes; 58 per cent had a karyotype associated with Turner syndrome phenotype; while autosomal trisomies and various structural abnormalities made up the remaining 20 per cent. Even among those fetuses with normal chromosomes, various physical anomalies were detected. Fetal hydrops was present in 66 per cent of the 102 cases with pertinent information. For those fetuses demonstrating cystic hygroma and normal karyotypes, Mendelian syndromes must be considered in the differential diagnosis. Alpha-fetoprotein evaluation of both maternal serum and amniotic fluid was not helpful in determining prognosis of these fetuses. The ultrasonographic finding of a posterior nuchal cystic hygroma, with or without accompanying fetal hydrops, is a valid indicator for a poor outcome of such pregnancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-490
Number of pages10
JournalObstetrical and Gynecological Survey
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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