NIH study sees little benefit to added fetal ECG monitoring during birth; More than 11,000 pregnant women were part of the study

The new technology, which tracks the electrical activity of the fetal heart, neither reduced the risk for a number of outcomes that included fetal and neonatal deaths nor did it have any significant effect on the rates of cesarean or operative delivery, the NIH said.  The findings have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine.  Researchers divided more than 11,000 pregnant women into two groups when they went into labor after the 36th week of pregnancy.  The first group received readings from both the ECG ST monitors and fetal heart rate monitors, while the second group were hooked up to only the fetal heart rate monitor.

“The study authors compared a number of outcomes … and found no significant differences,” Dr. Uma Reddy, medical officer at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement.  “Our study didn’t find any benefit for ECG ST monitoring in term births.”

The technology is referred to as fetal ST segment analysis and derives its name from the ST interval, which is the brief space of time after a heartbeat when the heart cannot contract again until heart cells recover from the electrical impulse that triggers the beat.  ECGs are commonly used to detect abnormal heart rates, heart attacks and other heart problems; however, are rarely used in the U.S. to monitor fetal heart rates.  Typically, physicians have monitored only the fetal heart rate during labor.

Unrelated to the study, Israeli startup Nuvo Group is developing a mobile fetal monitor that helps physicians screen for symptoms that may lead to complications during pregnancy.  The device sends the information to a smartphone and stores it to a cloud-based database, providing data on heart rate, movement and fetal position.  Earlier this year, Philips got FDA clearance for a cable-less fetal monitor that will allow women more freedom of movement during labor.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Medical Devices; 14 AUG 2015; Joseph Keenan