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Best Tests for the Situation

The most useful tests for determining the cause of a stillbirth are placental examination, fetal autopsy, and genetic testing, the New York Times reports.

Researchers led by the University of Utah School of Medicine's Robert Silver evaluated diagnostic approaches used to ascertain the cause of stillbirth as part of the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network. For 512 stillbirths that occurred between 2006 and 2008 at 59 hospitals in five states, they gauged whether a range of tests could help confirm or rule out suspected causes of fetal death.

As they report in Obstetrics & Gynecology, they found that placental pathology was helpful in 64.6 percent of participants, fetal autopsy in 42.4 percent, and genetic testing and antiphospholipid antibody screening in 11.9 percent and 11.1 percent of participants, respectively.

"These tests have an impact, and now there's more of a scientific rationale for their use," Northwestern University's Emily Miller, who was not involved with the study, tells the Times.

Such tests are not always conducted, the Times notes, as they — especially placental studies — have to be performed soon after stillbirth and many doctors are loath to bring testing up and many parents are reluctant or too upset to agree to it.