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Majority of stillbirth cases remain unexplained

In the majority of stillbirth cases the cause remains unknown despite a full post-mortem investigation, say researchers from Great Ormond Street Hospital
autopsy

In the majority of stillbirth cases the cause remains unknown despite a full post-mortem investigation, say researchers from Great Ormond Street Hospital

They reviewed the value of the autopsy and examination of tissue samples under a microscope, as well as the effectiveness of analysing the placenta and reviewing case notes for determining the cause of stillbirths and earlier deaths in the womb in 1,064 cases.

The researchers found that about 40% had a clear cause of death identified, while 60% of deaths were classified as unexplained.

Fast fact

In 2014, 5,558 babies died just before, during or soon after birth.

Source: Stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands

A clinical review identified the cause of death in about 20% of cases and placental examination provided a

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In the majority of stillbirth cases the cause remains unknown despite a full post-mortem investigation, say researchers from Great Ormond Street Hospital


Researchers classified 60% of stillbirth deaths as ‘unexplained’. Picture: iStock

They reviewed the value of the autopsy and examination of tissue samples under a microscope, as well as the effectiveness of analysing the placenta and reviewing case notes for determining the cause of stillbirths and earlier deaths in the womb in 1,064 cases. 

The researchers found that about 40% had a clear cause of death identified, while 60% of deaths were classified as ‘unexplained’. 

Fast fact

In 2014, 5,558 babies died just before, during or soon after birth. 

Source: Stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands

A clinical review identified the cause of death in about 20% of cases and placental examination provided a cause in another 20% of cases. Carrying out an invasive post-mortem examination identified the cause of death in only a small percentage of cases. 

Lead study author professor Neil Sebire, consultant paediatric pathologist at Great Ormond Street, said: ‘Using current methods, including full autopsy, we are still often unable to find out why the baby has died.

‘It’s therefore vitally important that we advance better ways of properly investigating these cases by developing new, more refined techniques. This will ensure we can support families in the best possible way.’


Man J et al (2016) Stillbirth and intrauterine fetal death: factors affecting determination of cause of death at autopsy. Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Doi: 10.1002/uog.16016 

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