• Vol. 32 No. 5, 649–652
  • 15 September 2003

A Case Series of Gastrointestinal Abnormalities in Fetuses with Echogenic Bowel Detected During the Antenatal Period



Objective: The objective was to evaluate the incidence of gastrointestinal abnormalities amongst those fetuses with antenatally diagnosed echogenic bowel (EB).

Materials and Methods: A retrospective review of all cases delivered from April 2002 to March 2003 with antenatally diagnosed EB was conducted. This was defined as bowel that appeared as echogenic as (if not greater than) the iliac bone on a real-time image. The postnatal outcomes with regard to gastrointestinal abnormalities, till their discharge, were noted.

Results: Of the 13,941 patients delivered, there were 70 cases with antenatally diagnosed EB, giving an incidence of 70/13,941 or 0.50%. Of these, 6 defaulted follow-up and 1 had a mid-trimester termination of pregnancy at 21 weeks’ gestation for social reasons. Of the remaining 63 cases with EB, 2 were stillbirths at 31 weeks and 35 weeks of gestation, respectively. Three fetuses (3/63 or 4.76%) were diagnosed with gastrointestinal abnormalities. Meconium plug syndrome was diagnosed postnatally in 2 cases, of which, 1 resolved with conservative management while the other required an emergency laparotomy. Intestinal atresia was diagnosed in the postmortem of one of the stillbirths. There was evidence of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) in both the stillbirth and the fetus that had required laparotomy. None of the 3 fetuses exhibited clinical features of aneuploidy.

Conclusion: As the quoted background risk for gastrointestinal pathology is 0.23%, an increased incidence (4.76%) is observed in those fetuses found to have antenatal EB. It is possible that the presence of IUGR is associated with a worse prognosis. Further prospective studies are needed to verify this association.

Although the presence of fetal echogenic bowel (EB) has been largely regarded as benign, it has been viewed as a soft marker for various congenital anomalies. To date, no studies have been conclusive and the importance of antenatal EB amongst the low-risk population has remained confusing.

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