Hydrops Fetalis Symptoms & Causes

What is hydrops fetalis?

Hydrops fetalis, or hydrops, is a condition that occurs when large amounts of fluid build up in a baby’s tissues and organs causing extreme swelling.

Types of hydrops fetalis


  • occurs when the mother's immune system causes the baby’s red blood cells to breakdown
  • most dangerous complication of hemolytic disease of the newborn


  • occurs when disease or other complications interfere with the baby's ability to manage fluid
  • most common type

What causes hydrops fetalis?

Many different diseases and other medical complications can cause hydrops fetalis, such as:



Is hydrops fetalis common?

Immune hydrops fetalis is no longer very common due to advances in the prevention of hemolytic disease of the newborn. Non-immune hydrops fetalis occurs in approximately one of every 1,000 births. About half of unborn babies with hydrops fetalis do not survive.

What are the symptoms of hydrops fetalis?

Symptoms of hydrops fetalis can occur during pregnancy or after the baby is born. During pregnancy, symptoms of hydrops fetalis may include:

  • large amounts of amniotic fluid
  • thickened placenta
  • enlarged liver, spleen or heart in the baby
  • fluid buildup in the baby’s abdomen

After birth, symptoms may include:

  • pale coloring
  • severe swelling overall, especially in the baby's abdomen
  • enlarged liver and spleen
  • difficulty breathing