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Glossary - High-Risk Pregnancy

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Alpha-fetoprotein - a protein produced by the fetus that is excreted into the amniotic fluid. Abnormal levels of alpha-fetoprotein may indicate brain or spinal cord defects, multiple fetuses, a miscalculated due date, or chromosomal disorders.

Amniocentesis - a test performed to determine chromosomal and genetic disorders and certain birth defects. The test involves inserting a needle through the abdominal and uterine wall into the amniotic sac to retrieve a sample of amniotic fluid.

Amniotic sac - a thin-walled sac that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. The sac is filled with amniotic fluid - liquid made by the fetus and the amnion (the membrane that covers the fetal side of the placenta) which protects the fetus from injury and helps to regulate the temperature of the fetus.

Anemia - a decrease of red blood cells in the blood.


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Biophysical profile - a test that uses the nonstress test and ultrasound to examine fetal movements, heart rate, and amniotic fluid amounts.

Bilirubin - substance that results from red blood cell breakdown.


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Cerclage - a procedure used to suture the cervical opening.

Chorioamnionitis - a serious infection of the placental tissues.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) - placental tissue that is sometimes retrieved for laboratory analysis. Cells from this tissue can be tested for certain genetic abnormalities and chromosomal disorders.

Congenital abnormality - an abnormality present at birth.

Cordocentesis - a procedure to sample some of the umbilical cord blood during pregnancy.

Corticosteroid - medication given to the pregnant woman to help mature the lungs of the fetus.


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Doppler flow - A type of ultrasound which use sound waves to measure blood flow.

Ductus arteriosus - connecting blood vessel between the pulmonary artery and the aorta in the fetus.


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Eclampsia - a severe form of gestational hypertension resulting in seizures.

Ectopic pregnancy - an abnormal pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus.

Edema - swelling due to the buildup of fluid.

Estriol - a hormone produced by the placenta and by the fetal liver and adrenal glands.


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Fetal fibronectin (FFN) - a protein that helps "glue together" the tissues of the placenta.

Fetal heart rate monitoring - a method of checking the rate and rhythm of the fetal heartbeat.

Fetus - an unborn baby from the eighth week after fertilization until delivery.

Folic acid - a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements. Folic acid can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.


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Gestational diabetes - a condition in which the glucose level is elevated and other diabetic symptoms appear during pregnancy in a woman who has not previously been diagnosed with diabetes.


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HELLP syndrome - a group of symptoms that occur in pregnant women who have hemolysis (the breakdown of red blood cells), elevated liver enzyme, and low platelet count.

Hematocrit - the measurement of the percentage of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood.

Hemoglobin - a type of protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues of the body.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) - a hormone produced by the placenta.

Hydramnios - a condition characterized by too much amniotic fluid.

Hydrops fetalis - a condition that occurs as the fetal organs fail and large amounts of fluid build up in the fetal tissues and organs.


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Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) - term for slowed growth of the fetus during pregnancy.

Iron deficiency anemia - the lack of iron in the blood, which is necessary to make hemoglobin, the part of blood that distributes oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body.


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Jaundice - a yellow coloring of the skin and/or eyes that is caused by too much bilirubin in the blood.


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Miscarriage (also called spontaneous abortion) - early pregnancy loss.


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Neural tube defects - defects of the fetal brain or spine.

Nonstress test - a way of measuring the fetal heart rate in response to the fetus' movements.


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Oligohydramnios - a condition characterized by too little amniotic fluid.


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Patent ductus arteriosus - condition in which the connecting blood vessel between the pulmonary artery and the aorta in fetal circulation stays open in the newborn.

Placenta - an organ, shaped like a flat cake, that only grows during pregnancy and provides a metabolic interchange between the fetus and mother. (The fetus takes in oxygen, food, and other substances and eliminates carbon dioxide and other wastes.)

Placenta previa - placenta is attached close to or covering the cervix (opening into the uterus).

Placental abruption - early detachment of the placenta from the uterus.

Postpartum - after delivery.

Preeclampsia - a pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling (edema) due to fluid retention.

Premature - describes a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Preterm - occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy.


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Rh disease - complications resulting from incompatibility between the blood types of the mother and baby.


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Toxoplasmosis - an infection caused by a parasite that can lead to serious illness or death in the fetus.


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Ultrasound - a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the fetus' body and organs and the surrounding tissues.

Uterine wall - the wall of the uterus.

Uterus (also called the womb) - a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman's lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum, that sheds its lining each month during menstruation and in which a fertilized egg (ovum) becomes implanted and the fetus develops.


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Vagina - the part of the female genitals, behind the bladder and in front of the rectum, that forms a canal extending from the uterus to the vulva.

Vernix caseosa (also called vernix) - a white substance that covers the skin of the fetus (while inside the uterus) and helps to protect the fetus.


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