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Clinical and Developmental Immunology
Volume 2012, Article ID 946576, 7 pages
Review Article

Current Concepts of Immunology and Diagnosis in Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, USA

Received 29 June 2011; Accepted 3 August 2011

Academic Editor: Gilbert Faure

Copyright © 2012 Michael D. Benson. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Amniotic fluid embolism (AFE) is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in developed countries. Current thinking about pathophysiology has shifted away from embolism toward a maternal immune response to the fetus. Two immunologic mechanisms have been studied to date. Anaphylaxis appears to be doubtful while the available evidence supports a role for complement activation. With the mechanism remaining to be elucidated, AFE remains a clinical diagnosis. It is diagnosed based on one or more of four key signs/symptoms: cardiovascular collapse, respiratory distress, coagulopathy, and/or coma/seizures. The only laboratory test that reliably supports the diagnosis is the finding of fetal material in the maternal pulmonary circulation at autopsy. Perhaps the most compelling mystery surrounding AFE is not why one in 20,000 parturients are afflicted, but rather how the vast majority of women can tolerate the foreign antigenic presence of their fetus both within their uterus and circulation?