An amniotic fluid embolism is a rare but serious condition that occurs when amniotic fluid — the fluid that surrounds a baby in the uterus during pregnancy — or fetal material, such as hair, enters the maternal bloodstream.
An amniotic fluid embolism is most likely to occur during childbirth or immediately afterward.
An amniotic fluid embolism is difficult to diagnose. If your doctor suspects you might have an amniotic fluid embolism, you’ll need immediate treatment to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.
An amniotic fluid embolism develops suddenly and rapidly.
Signs and symptoms of an amniotic fluid embolism might include:
Why an amniotic fluid embolism occurs isn’t well understood.
An amniotic fluid embolism occurs when amniotic fluid or fetal material enters the maternal bloodstream, possibly by passing through tears in the fetal membranes. It’s likely that amniotic fluid contains components that cause an inflammatory reaction and activate clotting in the mother’s lungs and blood vessels.
However, amniotic fluid embolisms are rare — and it’s likely that some amniotic fluid commonly enters the maternal bloodstream during delivery without causing problems. It’s not clear why in some cases this leads to an amniotic fluid embolism.
Further research on what causes amniotic fluid embolisms is needed.
Amniotic fluid embolisms are rare, which makes it difficult to identify risk factors. It’s estimated that there are between 1 and 12 cases of amniotic fluid embolism for every 100,000 deliveries.
Research suggests that several factors might be linked to an increased risk of an amniotic fluid embolism, however, including:
An amniotic fluid embolism can cause serious complications for you and your baby.
If you have an amniotic fluid embolism, you’re at increased risk of:
It’s estimated that amniotic fluid embolisms cause up to 10 percent of maternal deaths in developed countries. Death can occur within an hour of the start of symptoms.
If you have an amniotic embolism, your unborn baby is at increased risk of a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen. The condition can also be fatal for babies.
An amniotic fluid embolism is a medical emergency, leaving you no time to prepare. If you’re concerned about your risk of having an amniotic fluid embolism, talk with your doctor. Keep in mind, however, that amniotic fluid embolisms are rare, unpredictable and seemingly unpreventable.
There are no lab tests to diagnose an amniotic fluid embolism. A diagnosis is typically made after other conditions have been ruled out. In some cases, a diagnosis is only made after maternal death.
An amniotic fluid embolism requires rapid treatment to address low blood oxygen and low blood pressure.
Emergency treatments might include:
If you have an amniotic fluid embolism before delivering your baby, your doctor will treat you with an eye toward safely delivering your baby as soon as possible. An emergency C-section might be needed.
Experiencing a life-threatening pregnancy condition can be frightening and stressful for you and your family. You and your baby might experience serious complications and require lengthy hospital stays.
During this challenging time, lean on loved ones for support. Consider joining a survivors’ network. Also, work with your health care provider to determine how you can safely manage your recovery and your role as the mother of a newborn.