Hydrops Fetalis

Also known as: Fetal hydrops, hydrops, erythroblastosis fetalis.

What is hydrops fetalis?

Hydrops fetalis is an abnormal collection of fluid in at least two different organ spaces (like the skin, abdomen, around the heart and/or lungs) causing massive swelling. It is a severe, life-threatening problem in fetuses and/or newborns. There are two major types: immune (also called erythroblastosis fetalis) and non-immune hydrops.

What causes hydrops fetalis? 

The immune type of hydrops fetalis occurs when the mother’s immune system attacks and destroys the fetus/baby’s red blood cells. This results from an incompatibility of blood group types between the mother and baby.
Non-immune hydrops (more common) results from the baby's inability to manage fluid. Diseases associated with this include:
  • Severe anemia
  • Infections that occur before birth (congenital)
  • Abnormalities of the baby's chromosomes
  • Liver and heart defects, etc.
In some babies the cause may not be found.

What are the symptoms of hydrops fetalis?

These can vary but frequently include:
  • Before birth:
    • Large amounts of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
    • A thick placenta
    • Enlarged organs (liver, spleen, heart) and
    • Fluid in the abdomen, and/or around the heart/lungs
  • After birth:
    • Pale color (anemia)
    • Yellow color (jaundice)
    • Large liver and spleen
    • Difficulty breathing and
    • Fluid in the abdomen with swelling of limbs

What are hydrops fetalis care options? 

Treatments depend on the cause and severity. Early delivery, blood transfusions (before and/or after birth), supportive treatments with oxygen and/or breathing machines, removal of fluid if it interferes with lung/heart function and managing any underlying causative condition.  

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 23/05/2018 2:26:44 p. m.

Próximos Eventos

Campamento UOTS

El Campamento U.O.T.S. es un campamento anual, donde los niños con cáncer y trastornos de sangre que son tratados en el Nicklaus Children's Hospital, duermen fuera por una semana.

Learn more and register

Nuestras Noticias

Siblings of Cancer Patients enjoy a Fun Filled Day
More than two dozen children attended the Bear Hug camp at Nicklaus Children's last week. This day camp is for siblings of pediatric cancer patients to encourage socialization among peers and help them gain insight on their siblings' care journey. 
Daniella Celebrates her Ninth Birthday by Advocating for Children’s Health
On this very same day nine years ago, Daniella Alvarez was diagnosed Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor (ATRT), a rare and aggressive type of brain cancer. The news came on June 26, 2009, her second birthday. Daniella endured years of brain surgeries, aggressive chemotherapies, radiation, imaging scans, multiple visits to intensive care at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. She is now cancer free thanks to a pediatric clinical trial made possible through research funding.


When he and his family were still living in Venezuela, Juan Pablo was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer. Watch Juan Pablo’s story and help us raise awareness throughout the month of September for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.