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OBJECTIVE: To assess the clinical value of the short-term fetal heart rate variation (STV) for timing the delivery of severely growth-retarded fetuses, many associated with pre-eclampsia. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: John Radcliffe Maternity Hospital, Oxford, UK. POPULATION: Two hundred and fifty-seven fetuses with a birthweight less than third percentile and a last computerised cardiotocography performed within 24 h of delivery. METHODS: Analysis of the relationship between antepartum STV and the perinatal outcome. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Stillbirth rate and the acid-base status at birth. RESULTS: There were no stillbirths or neonatal deaths (NNDs) within 24 h in the study population. Decreasing STV was correlated with earlier deliveries (P < 0.001), lower birthweight (P < 0.001), lower umbilical artery pH at birth (P < 0.001), worse acid-base status at birth (P < 0.001) and worse postnatal outcome (P < 0.002). The STV was able to predict the presence or absence of acidaemia and metabolic acidaemia (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve 0.70 and 0.75, respectively, P < 0.001). The risk of metabolic acidaemia increased as the antepartum STV decreased, the optimum cutoff level being < or = 3.0 milliseconds (positive and negative predictive values 64.6 and 86.6%). An STV < or = 3.0 milliseconds was associated with markedly higher rate of metabolic acidaemia and early NNDs compared with an STV > 3.0 milliseconds (54.2 versus 10.5% and 8.3 versus 0.5%, respectively; P < 0.001). The deaths of the former group were all due to extreme prematurity and very low birthweight. CONCLUSIONS: The antepartum STV is an important marker of perinatal outcome in severely growth-retarded fetuses. Timing the delivery of the most preterm and small fetuses remains a difficult task.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1101 - 1107


Acid-Base Imbalance, Adolescent, Adult, Cardiotocography, Delivery, Obstetric, Female, Fetal Growth Retardation, Gestational Age, Heart Rate, Fetal, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Male, Retrospective Studies, Time Factors