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Gross examination of the placenta

Drucilla J Roberts, MD
Section Editors
Charles J Lockwood, MD, MHCM
Rochelle L Garcia, MD
Deputy Editor
Vanessa A Barss, MD, FACOG


The placenta is a fetal organ consisting of an umbilical cord, membranes (chorion and amnion), and parenchyma (picture 1). Maternal or fetal disorders may have placental sequelae since the mother and fetus interface at this site. Conversely, primary placental abnormalities can affect both maternal and fetal health. Thus, examination of the placenta may yield information on the impact of maternal disorders on the fetus or the cause of preterm delivery, fetal growth restriction, or neurodevelopmental impairment. Placental examination is an essential component of the autopsy in cases of fetal or neonatal death. (See "Evaluation of stillbirth".)

This examination also aids in a number of difficult situations, such as [1-3]:

Legal issues regarding the presence of acute versus chronic perinatal stresses and insults, and the timing of these insults

Diagnosis of the specific etiologies of adverse pregnancy outcomes

Identification of zygosity and pathology (eg, twin to twin transfusion) in multifetal gestation

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 24, 2017.
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