Amniotic Fluid Embolism (AFE) is a rare life-threatening condition that occurs during pregnancy and may affect the mother and baby. In this condition, the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby in the uterus, containing foetal cells, hair particles and other foetal material makes way into the mother’s bloodstream. Not many people are even aware that this potentially critical condition exists.

According to Dr Sejal Devendra Surti, who is a specialist gynaecologist at Aster Hospital Mankhool in Dubai, there is no specific cause as to why the condition occurs. “It could be caused when the placenta breaks allowing the amniotic fluid to enter the bloodstream, but there is no established cause or prevention technique. AFE can be extremely fatal to the mother and the child.”

Complications include respiratory issues, multiple organ dysfunction, massive blood loss and disseminated intravascular coagulation (a condition in which small blood clots develop throughout the bloodstream, blocking small blood vessels) and cardiac arrest.

If AFE occurs before or during the delivery, it puts the baby at risk of foetal distress. Babies are immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Parents need to be aware that the condition can be caused in normal deliveries and C-sections, during childbirth or immediately after the child is born. Since there are no tests that can be done to diagnose the condition, one must keep track of symptoms including; nausea, skin discoloration, seizure, anxiety, poor foetal heart rate, sudden drop in blood pressure and poor oxygen levels in the blood. However, these are not diagnostic symptoms and could be caused as a result of other pregnancy-related conditions. Having emergency care and critical care management is crucial in such cases.

“In all cases, we make sure that we recognise AFE as the most probable diagnosis amongst other possible causes,” explains Dr Alai Taggu, who is a specialist physician and head of the Critical Care Medicine department at the hospital. It can be a very challenging time for the family, and expectant parents need to be aware about AFE, though rare.”