Obstetrics at Decisive Crossroads Regarding Pattern-Recognition of Fetal Heart Rate Decelerations: Scientific Principles and Lessons From Memetics

Shashikant L. Sholapurkar


The survival of cardiotocography (CTG) as a tool for intrapartum fetal monitoring seems threatened somewhat unjustifiably and unwittingly despite the absence of better alternatives. Fetal heart rate (FHR) decelerations are center-stage (most important) in the interpretation of CTG with maximum impact on three-tier classification. The pattern-discrimination of FHR decelerations is inexorably linked to their nomenclature. Unscientific or flawed nomenclature of decelerations can explain the dysfunctional CTG interpretation leading to errors in detection of acidemic fetuses. There are three contrasting concepts about categorization of FHR decelerations: 1) all rapid decelerations (the vast majority) should be grouped as “variable” because they are predominantly due to cord-compression, 2) all decelerations are due to chemoreflex from fetal hypoxemia hence their timing is not important, and 3) FHR decelerations should be categorized into “early/late/variable” based primarily on their time relationship to contractions. These theoretical concepts are like memes (ideas/beliefs). Lessons from “memetics” are that the most popular, attractive or established beliefs may not necessarily be true, scientific, beneficial or even without harm. Decelerations coincident with contractions with trough corresponding to the peak of contractions cannot be explained by cord-compression or increasing hypoxia (from compromised uteroplacental perfusion, cord-compression or even cerebral hypoperfusion/anoxia purportedly conceivable from head-compression). Decelerations due to hypoxemia would be associated with delayed recovery of decelerations (lag phase). It is a scientific imperative to cast away disproven/falsified theories. Practices based on unscientific theories lead to patient harm. Clinicians should urgently adopt the categorization of FHR decelerations based primarily of the time relationship to contractions as originally proposed by Hon and Caldeyro-Barcia. This analytical review shows it to be underpinned by most robust physiological and scientific hypotheses unlike the other categorizations associated with untruthful hypotheses, irreconcilable fallacies and contradictions. Without truthful framework and meaningful pattern-recognition of FHR decelerations, the CTG will not fulfil its true potential.

J Clin Med Res. 2018;10(4):302-308
doi: https://doi.org/10.14740/jocmr3307e


Cardiotocography; Fetal heart rate decelerations; Memetics; Intrapartum fetal monitoring; Head compression; Cord compression; Fetal hypoxemia

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