What Are the Risks Of A Biophysical Profile?


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When pregnancy is a high risk, goes on longer than expected, or there are other causes for concern, healthcare providers frequently recommend testing to help decide if intervention is needed. A biophysical profile is one important tool providers use to help make that choice.

What Is A Biophysical Profile?

A biophysical profile, or BPP, is a test that uses ultrasound and heart rate monitoring to screen for disruptions to a baby’s oxygen supply. A biophysical profile is usually ordered for expectant mothers at higher risk for complications or pregnancy loss or whenever there is concern about the health and well-being of the fetus. It’s an excellent tool for helping to identify issues while the child is still in the womb and allows doctors to intervene and deliver the baby earlier to avoid permanent injury or death.

A biophysical profile evaluates five areas of fetal health:

  • Heart rate: at least two heart rate accelerations within 20 minutes is considered “reactive” and is a good sign of fetal health. A lack of heart rate accelerations, especially when the fetus moves, can be concerning
  • Breathing movements: at least one 30-second episode of rhythmic breathing movements is expected in a healthy fetus, and the absence of breathing movements may be cause for concern
  • Body movement: at least three limbs or movements are expected within 30 seconds. When body movements are reduced or absent, it’s a sign that something may be wrong.
  • Muscle tone: this is assessed by watching to see if the baby has the strength to move its limbs from a bent to a straight position
  • Amniotic fluid level: pockets of amniotic fluid are measured using the ultrasound, and the size of the largest visible fluid pocket is a good indication of whether the baby is surrounded by the appropriate amount of fluid

Each of these areas is given a score of either 0 for a concerning measurement or 2 for a healthy measurement. A score of 8 or greater is considered a good sign of fetal health, and scores of 4 or lower are cause for serious concern.

Are There Any Risks When Obtaining A Biophysical Profile?

Biophysical profiles are noninvasive. They’re painless and pose no real risk to the mother or child. Because a BPP is used to evaluate a high-risk pregnancy, testing can be a cause of increased stress levels for the mother. This anxiety may cause some deviations in the baby’s heart rate, which should be taken into account, but a BPP is otherwise harmless.

There have been some concerns related to prolonged exposure to ultrasound, particularly because fetal biophysical profiles may need to be repeated at least once a week until delivery if the risk for complications is high. Because testing has the potential to save the life of the child, the potential for risk with repeated ultrasounds is generally considered to be less than the risk of permanent injury or death if screening is not done.

Does A Biophysical Profile Have Any Limitations?

A concerning result often suggests that the baby may need to be delivered earlier than planned when a BPP is performed. Still, it doesn’t necessarily mean the baby is in immediate trouble. “False positives” (a concerning score when nothing is actually wrong) are not uncommon, so repeated testing is often warranted before action is taken.

False positives can occur for many reasons. Testing can be done at any time after the 25th week of gestation, but the results are not particularly reliable before the 32nd week. The results can also be affected by medications such as corticosteroids, narcotics, magnesium, and tocolytics (medications used to slow or stop contractions in preterm labor). Finally, if the fetus is sleeping when the test is done, the results may be unreliable and need to be repeated.

Can A Health Care Provider’s Misread Of A BPP Cause Harm?

While the test itself cannot cause harm, practitioners can use the test results to do more harm than good. For example, suppose a doctor does not consider other factors about the mother or fetus’s health, medications, or whether the baby was even awake at the time of the test. In that case, they may interpret the results as needing urgent intervention when it’s not warranted. Repeating the test helps ensure that intervention is only given when needed to ensure the health of the mother and child.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

When a child is born too early, they’re at risk of experiencing a wide range of potential complications. When a medical professional brings about a premature birth, it should only be because the risk of death or permanent injury is greater in the womb than out of it. If a doctor uses poor judgment and delivers a baby early when current medical guidelines do not recommend it, any birth injury caused as a result of their negligence could be cause for litigation.

If you or a loved one has been severely injured after a healthcare provider misused the results of a biophysical profile, contact the legal team at Ross Feller Casey to begin your journey toward recovery. You deserve justice, and we know what it takes to get it done. Our leading doctors and highly experienced lawyers are nationally recognized for record-setting verdicts and settlements, and they’re ready to put that experience to work for you. Contact us today for your free consultation.

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