What is hydramnios?
Hydramnios is a condition that occurs when too much amniotic fluid builds up during pregnancy. It is also called amniotic fluid disorder, or hydramnios. It occurs in about 1 percent of all pregnancies.
Too much amniotic fluid can cause the mother’s uterus to become overdistended and may lead to preterm labor or premature rupture of membranes (the amniotic sac). Hydramnios is also associated with birth defects in the fetus. When the amniotic sac ruptures, large amounts of fluid leaving the uterus may increase the risk of placental abruption (early detachment of the placenta) or umbilical cord prolapse (when the cord falls down through the cervical opening) where it may be compressed.
It is easy for a fetus with a lot of fluid around it to flip and turn. This means there is a greater chance of being in a feet-down position (breech) when it is time to deliver. Breech babies can sometimes be moved into a head-down position, but they often have to be delivered by C-section.
Most cases of hydramnios are mild and result from a gradual buildup of amniotic fluid during the second half of pregnancy. Severe hydramnios may cause shortness of breath, preterm labor, or other signs and symptoms.
If you’re diagnosed with hydramnios, your health care provider will carefully monitor your pregnancy to help prevent complications. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Mild hydramnios may go away on its own. Severe hydramnios may require treatment, such as draining the excess amniotic fluid.
How common is hydramnios?
Often, extra fluid that appears during the second trimester returns to normal on its own. Mild hydramnios is more common than severe hydramnios. Hydramnios may occur in normal pregnancies with more than one baby (twins, triplets, or more). Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of hydramnios?
The common symptoms of hydramnios are:
- Rapid growth of uterus
- Discomfort in the abdomen
- Uterine contractions
Mild hydramnios often has no symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of hydramnios. However, each woman may experience symptoms differently.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- A hard time breathing
- Belly pain
- Swelling or bloating of your belly
What causes hydramnios?
Amniotic fluid is a liquid that surrounds and cushions the fetus (unborn baby) inside the uterus. It comes from the baby’s kidneys, and it goes into the uterus from the baby’s urine. The fluid is absorbed when the baby swallows it and through breathing motions.
The amount of fluid increases until the 36th week of pregnancy. After that, it slowly decreases. If the fetus makes too much urine or does not swallow enough, amniotic fluid builds up. This causes hydramnios. Many times, the cause of hydramnios is not found. Factors that are associated with hydramnios include the following:
- Gastrointestinal abnormalities that block the passage of fluid
- Abnormal swallowing due to problems with the central nervous system or chromosomal abnormalities
- Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome
- Heart failure
- Congenital infection (acquired in pregnancy)
What increases my risk for hydramnios?
There are many risk factors for hydramnios, such as:
- Pregnancies with more than one baby (twins, triplets, or more).
- Birth defects of the brain and spinal column
- Blockages in the digestive system
- A genetic problem (a problem with the chromosomes that is inherited)
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is hydramnios diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and a physical examination, hydramnios is usually diagnosed with ultrasound (a test using sound waves to create a picture of internal structures) by measuring pockets of fluid to estimate the total volume. In some cases, ultrasound is also helpful in finding a cause of hydramnios, such as multiple pregnancy or a birth defect.
You may need additional tests as well, including:
- Amniocentesis is a procedure in which a sample of amniotic fluid — which contains fetal cells and various chemicals produced by the baby — is removed from the uterus for testing.
- Glucose challenge test. The glucose challenge test is a screening test for a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy (gestational diabetes). After an overnight fast, you drink a syrupy glucose solution. Your blood sugar level will be checked every hour for a period of three hours. If at least two of the readings are higher than normal, you’ll be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
- Karyotype testing is used to screen the baby’s chromosomes for abnormalities. The cells needed for testing can be taken from a sample of amniotic fluid during amniocentesis or a small piece of tissue from the placenta during a test called chorionic villus sampling.
If you’re diagnosed with hydramnios, your health care provider will closely monitor your pregnancy, possibly with weekly ultrasounds to measure your level of amniotic fluid. Your health care provider may also do regular tests to check on your baby’s health, including:
- Nonstress test. This test checks how your baby’s heart rate reacts when your baby moves. During the test, you’ll wear a special device on your abdomen to measure the baby’s heart rate. You may be asked to eat or drink something to make the baby active. A buzzer-like device also may be used to wake the baby and encourage movement.
- Biophysical profile. This test combines an ultrasound with a nonstress test to provide more information about your baby’s breathing, tone and movement, as well as the volume of amniotic fluid in your uterus.
- Doppler ultrasound. This specialized type of ultrasound can provide details about your baby’s circulation.
How is hydramnios treated?
Specific treatment for hydramnios will be determined by your doctor based on:
- Your pregnancy, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the condition
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Mild cases of hydramnios rarely require treatment and may go away on their own. Even cases that cause discomfort can usually be managed without intervention.
In other cases, treatment for an underlying condition — such as diabetes — may help resolve hydramnios.
If you experience preterm labor, shortness of breath or abdominal pain, you may need treatment — potentially in the hospital. Treatment for hydramnios may include:
- Closely monitoring the amount of amniotic fluid and frequent follow-up visits with the physician
- Medication (to decrease fetal urine production)
- Amnioreduction–amniocentesis (inserting a needle through the uterus and into the amniotic sac) to remove some of the amniotic fluid; this procedure may need to be repeated.
- Delivery (if complications endanger the well-being of the fetus or mother, then an early delivery may be necessary)
The goal of treatment is to relieve the mother’s discomfort and continue the pregnancy.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hydramnios?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hydramnios:
You cannot prevent hydramnios. If you have symptoms, tell your provider so you can be checked and treated, if needed.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Polyhydramnios. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polyhydramnios/basics/definition/con-20034451. Accessed 17 Apr 2017
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000599.htm. Accessed 17 Apr 2017
- Amniotic Fluid Problems/Hydramnios/Oligohydramnios. http://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/amniotic-fluid-problemshydramniosoligohydramnios. Accessed 17 Apr 2017
Review Date: August 2, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019