Maternal obesity limits the ultrasound evaluation of fetal anatomy

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87 Scopus citations


Objective. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of maternal habitus on adequate visualization of fetal anatomy during a standard second-trimester ultrasound examination. Methods. This was a retrospective cohort study of singleton pregnancies at 18 to 24 weeks that underwent sonography over a 5-year period. Pregnancies complicated by an indication for targeted sonography were excluded. Standard ultrasound examinations were performed according to American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine criteria. Ten anatomic components were evaluated for adequacy of visualization: atria of the cerebral ventricles, posterior fossa, midline face, 4-chamber view of the heart, spine, ventral wall, umbilical cord vessels, stomach, kidneys, and bladder. The body mass index (BMI) was based on the patient's weight at the first prenatal visit. Results. Of 10,112 women who underwent a standard ultrasound examination, 2% were underweight; 38% were of normal weight; 34% were overweight; and 26% were obese. Visualization of fetal anatomy decreased significantly with increasing maternal BMI for the complete survey as well as for each individual component with the exception of the fetal bladder (all P < .001). Among those with a normal or underweight BMI, an overweight BMI, and class 1, 2, and 3 obesity, all 10 anatomic components were adequately visualized at the initial examination in 72%, 68%, 57%, 41%, and 30% of cases, respectively (P < .001). Conclusions. Increasing maternal BMI limits visualization of fetal anatomy during a standard ultrasound examination at 18 to 24 weeks. In obese women, the fetal anatomy survey could be completed during the initial examination in only 50% of cases. Counseling may need to be modified to reflect the limitations of sonography in obese women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1025-1030
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Ultrasound in Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2009


  • Body mass index
  • Fetal anatomy
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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