Fetal Circulation

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Normal Fetal Circulation

Umbilical Arteries and Vein

The umbilicus has two umbilical arteries and one umbilical vein. Fetal blood goes into the placenta through umbilical arteries (58% O2 saturation). These arteries further divide into chorionic arteries in the chorionic villi where the exchange of substances takes place. After the exchange, oxygenated blood moves from the placenta to the fetal circulation through the umbilical vein (80% O2 saturation).

What is Ductus Venosus?

Further, this blood moves towards the liver where sinusoids receive a small amount of the blood and most of the blood goes into the inferior vena cava through ductus venosus (the connection between the umbilical vein and IVC). A little mixing of the blood takes place in the liver.

What is Foramen Ovale?

As the inferior vena cava receives blood from the lower part of the body so mixing of blood also takes place in the inferior vena cava. Blood goes into the right atrium where blood again mixes with less oxygenated blood because the right atrium also receives the less oxygenated blood from the superior vena cava.

Most of the blood goes from the right atrium into the left atrium through an opening called foramen ovale; present in septum secundum. The left atrium also receives the very little amount of blood coming from the lungs so mixing of blood also takes place in the left atrium and it pushes the blood into the left ventricle and eventually blood goes into the aorta.

What is Ductus Arteriosus?

Some blood also goes from the right atrium to the right ventricle and the pulmonary arteries. As fetal lungs are not functional, all the blood cannot go to the pulmonary vasculature. Collapsed fetal lungs and compressed pulmonary vasculature provide more resistance to the incoming blood, so little blood goes to the lungs. Due to this reason, most of the blood is pushed from the pulmonary artery into the aorta through a special connection called ductus arteriosus, due to which mixing of the blood takes place in the aorta.

Cerebral arteries and coronary arteries originate from the early part of the aorta (early to ductus arteriosus) so these arteries have highly oxygenated blood. The aorta moves further and supplies the blood to the body and blood eventually reaches to umbilical arteries.

Sites Where Mixing of Blood Takes Place

  1. Liver.

  2. Inferior vena cava.

  3. Right atrium.

  4. Left atrium.

  5. Aorta.

Changes in Fetal Circulation After Birth

There are the following changes which take place after birth:

  1. Closure of umbilical arteries.

  2. Closure of umbilical vein.

  3. Closure of ductus venosus.

  4. Closure of ductus arteriosus.

  5. Closure of Foramen Ovale.

Closure of Umbilical Vessels

There are two changes that take place after birth; the baby starts breathing by its own respiratory system and the baby is disconnected from the placenta.

After cutting the umbilical cord, the first umbilical arteries constrict then immediately umbilical vein constricts so that baby can receive more blood from the placenta.

Closure of Ductus Arteriosus

After the first baby’s cry, lung expansion leads to the opening of pulmonary vasculature resulting in less resistance to the blood flow. So blood starts going to the pulmonary system and oxygenation takes place in the lungs. Well, oxygenated blood moves from the lungs into the left atrium, left ventricle, and eventually into the aorta. Now aorta becomes a relatively high-pressure system as compared to the pulmonary system. Due to high pressure, well-oxygenated blood moves from the aorta to the pulmonary system through ductus arteriosus.

Closure of Ductus Arteriosus Takes Place by the Following Mechanisms:

  1. When blood with high oxygen content passes through the ductus arteriosus, it causes the constriction of smooth muscles because the ductus arteriosus is very sensitive to oxygen.

  2. After birth when lungs undergo their first inflation, they release bradykinin that may lead to constriction of ductus arteriosus

  3. Before birth, the cells in the ductus arteriosus produce PG-E2 at the low oxygen tension to keep the ductus arteriosus open, but after birth when well-oxygenated blood passes through the ductus arteriosus, production of PG-E2 becomes less, relaxation failure of smooth muscles occurs and eventually closure of ductus arteriosus takes place.

Closure of Foramen Ovale

After birth when oxygenated blood moves from the lungs into the left atrium, this increases the pressure in the left atrium. At the same time, the right atrium receives less blood due to the constriction of the umbilical vein so right atrial pressure is less than left atrial pressure. Due to this pressure difference blood moves from the left atrium to the right atrium and pushes the septum primum on the foramen ovale. In the end, there is a little depression in the wall that is called fossa ovalis.

Initially, all the formen are closed temporarily and eventually they become fibrotic after many months. For example; the foramen ovale is anatomically closed after one year of time. In 20% population, it never closes completely but has little communication.

C- Postnatal Remnants of Fetal Circulatory Components

There are five postnatal remnants of fetal circulatory components:

  1. Ligamentum teres: Umbilical vein, after closure, becomes fibrotic and called ligamentum teres.

  2. Ligamentum venosum: Ductus venosus closes and called ligamentum venosum.

  • Fossa ovalis: after the closure of foramen ovale, a depression on the wall is called fossa ovalis.

  1. Ligamentum arteriosum: Ductus arteriosus when becomes fibrotic is called ligamentum arteriosum.

  2. Medial umbilical ligament: After birth, some part of the umbilical artery works as an internal iliac artery and supply the blood to the urinary bladder through the superior vesical artery and the remaining part of the umbilical arteries become fibrotic; called the medial umbilical ligament.

What is Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) and Treatment?

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

In premature babies, ductus arteriosus does not close and due to high blood pressure in the aorta, blood keeps on moving from the aorta into the pulmonary artery and the lungs become overloaded with blood. This abnormal blood flow causes a murmur that changes its intensity during systole and diastole. As this murmur is heard during the whole cardiac cycle with different intensity so this is called machinery like murmur.


Medical: Indomethacin. It inhibits the production of PG-E2 that may cause the closure of ductus arteriosus.

Surgical: Ligation of PDA.

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