Intrauterine infection

The infection of the womb during pregnancy is referred to as intrauterine infection or chorioamnionitis. Intrauterine infection most often leads to premature birth and is an emergency-seeking medical condition.

Last Updated: 22 October 2020

Intrauterine infection
Intrauterine infection

During pregnancy, the growing fetus is enveloped by the amniotic sac which has an outer and an inner membrane and is filled with amniotic fluid. Placenta supplies the required nutrients and oxygen to the fetus through the umbilical cord. An infection that occurs on the membranes, within the womb, the amniotic fluid, placenta or the cord during pregnancy or labor is broadly termed as intrauterine infection.

Intrauterine infection can cause serious complications to the mother and baby if left untreated. 40% of premature births happen because of an infection of the womb. Timely medical intervention has proven to reduce the complications in most intrauterine infections.

What causes intrauterine infection?

Intrauterine infection is most commonly a bacterial infection that spreads to the uterus from the vagina. Bacteria that normally live in the vagina such as, E.coli and group B streptococcus are not harmful as long as they remain in the vagina. But, when they move to other parts of the body through the cervix, they cause infection in the migrated area. When these bacteria enter the uterus during pregnancy, they may infect the amniotic membranes, amniotic fluid and the placenta.

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Other routes of infection may be through the placenta or fallopian tubes.

What are the symptoms of intrauterine infection?

Pregnant women may experience one or all of the following symptoms when contracted with an intrauterine infection:

·         foul-smelling vaginal discharge

·         high fever

·         increased heart rate

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·         abdominal pain

What are the complications of intrauterine infection?

In most cases, an infection during pregnancy is diagnosed and treated before the condition becomes serious. If it is not treated at the right time, the infection may enter the bloodstream, a condition called bacteremia. Bacteremia is passed on to the baby in about 5-10% of the cases.

Intrauterine infection carries a high risk of rupturing the amniotic membranes prematurely leading to preterm labor and birth. Preterm birth is accompanied by low birth weight and underdevelopment of baby organs at the time of taking the baby out, which requires neonatal intensive care of the baby soon after birth.

Pregnant women with bacteremia will have to undergo a cesarean delivery as normal delivery carries the risk of infecting the baby.

How is intrauterine infection treated?

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When diagnosed with intrauterine infection, the pregnant mother needs to be given immediate medical care. Ampicillin, penicillin and gentamicin are the common antibiotics used for the treatment. Depending upon the severity of the infection, type and dosage of antibiotics will be decided by the doctor. If it is not severe, oral administration of antibiotic will lower the fever symptoms. However, if the intrauterine infection is not diagnosed early or if left untreated, hospitalization will become necessary to administer antibiotics intravenously. In worst cases where water breaks prematurely because of infection, the baby will be taken out soon. 

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