Hypercoiled Umbilical Cord: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Like every other part of the body, things can go wrong with umbilical cord during pregnancy. One such abnormality in the umbilical cord is when the umbilical cord becomes too coiled. When the cord is very coiled, this is called “hypercoiled umbilical cord”. Let’s unravel this phenomenon bit by bit.

Hypercoiled umbilical cord: The umbilical cord and its functions

fetus umbilical cord

The umbilical cord, often termed the lifeline of the baby, is the cord connecting the baby to the placenta. It is generally about 50 cm long and as thick as the middle finger. The normal umbilical cord has one thick vein and two thin arteries: The vein carries arterial blood (oxygenated blood) that contains oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the fetus, while the two arteries carry the metabolic waste and carbon dioxide from the fetus to the mother.

What is hypercoiled umbilical cord?

coil telephone cord

A normal umbilical cord is coiled like a telephone cord. When the umbilical cord is twisted beyond what is considered “normal”, it’s called a hypercoiled umbilical cord. When the cord has too few coils, it is called a hypocoiled umbilical cord.

Whether an umbilical cord is normal, hypercoiled or hypocoiled is dependent on the number of coils present in the cord – this is known as the umbilical coiling index (UCI). According to the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology International, the UCI is grouped as follows:

  • < 10th percentile—hypocoiled
  • 10th–90th percentile—normocoiled
  • > 90th percentile—hypercoiled1

Both the hypercoiled and the hypocoiled umbilical cord can result in the undesirable result of a decrease in the amount of nutrients sent to the fetus, resulting in intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and increases the risk of fetal death, poor fetal development, or a stillbirth.

The causes of hypercoiled umbilical cord

pregnant woman belly hand

There aren’t known reasons why an umbilical cord becomes hypercoiled. Possible explanations range from the mother’s age, the mother’s general health to the fetus’ movements, but they are not certain.

In most cases, a hypercoiled umbilical cord is detected between Week 21 and the last month of pregnancy. This can happen very suddenly and in pregnancies where mother and fetus didn’t show any signs of complications or problems.

Symptoms of hypercoiled umbilical cord

pregnant woman ultrasound scan doctor

There are no detectable symptoms in the mother. One telling sign that something is amiss is the baby’s poor development. The numerous coils decrease blood flow to the fetus and this affects the fetus’ growth and as a result, the fetus has growth restriction and fetal movement is weak.

To determine if a hypercoiled umbilical cord is the cause of poor fetal growth, a more elaborate ultrasound scan to check on the umbilical cord and a non-stress test (NST) that measures the fetal heart rate will be conducted. However, there are no physical symptoms in the mother that helps practitioners identify the possibility of a hypercoiled umbilical cord.

Treatment for hypercoiled umbilical cord

pregnant woman male doctor

Science is advancing by leaps and bounds but has not yet caught up on the treatment methods of a hypercoiled umbilical cord. The umbilical cord is, by nature, coiled – so hypercoiled umbilical cord doesn’t always lead to fetal death. There aren’t any available treatments now, so finding out that the umbilical cord is excessively coiled doesn’t mean the problem can be rectified.

However, if the pregnancy is near term, practitioners might recommend to mothers to choose between continuing to observe the fetus first or having a Caesarean section (C-section) done as soon as possible. Apart from this, there’s nothing else that the mother can do for the fetus, nor can any mother prevent a hypercoiled umbilical cord from forming.

Do your best and leave the rest to fate

pregnant woman belly

Advances in technology have enabled practitioners to be able to diagnose abnormalities in the umbilical cords, but unfortunately, science has not yet found an answer to treating a hypercoiled umbilical cord. If you came here because your practitioner told you had a hypercoiled umbilical cord, don’t give in to despair – this isn’t your fault, nor could you have foreseen this.

Bear in mind that the outcome is never known to anyone. Do what you would under normal circumstances – have as healthy a maternity life as possible – and come what may, you’ve done your best as a mother.