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Management of Placenta Accreta at Delivery

9/1/2017 - Anjali Martinez, MD


Mentor: Nancy Gaba, MD

Editor: Christine Isaacs, MD and Tiffany Moore-Simas. MD

 Initial Publish Date: 7/1/2017

Placenta accreta occurs when all or part of the placenta invades and is inseparable from the uterus. The incidence has increased from .02% in the 1970’s to 0.18% in the 1990’s, parallel with cesarean delivery rates.  The greatest risk occurs in women with placenta previa overlying the uterine scar. Accreta risk with placenta previa is 3% with one prior cesarean delivery, increasing to 67% with five.   Delivery blood loss is on average up to 5 liters, and mortality rates have been reported to be as high as 7%.  Given these risks, diagnostic evaluation, pre-delivery planning with multidisciplinary teams, and delivery at a tertiary center with massive transfusion capacity is essential.  The care team should include obstetricians, anesthesiologists, and neonatal specialists, with gynecology-oncology, surgery, urology, critical care, interventional radiology, and transfusion specialists available if necessary.


Pre-delivery diagnosis is typically made by recognizing risk factors and by ultrasonography, with magnetic resonance imaging reserved for ambiguous, high-risk, or high-suspicion cases.  The most predictive ultrasound finding is an increased number of placenta lacunae (vascular spaces) at 15-20 weeks gestation.  Thinning of the myometrium overlying the placenta, loss of retroplacental clear space, and increased vascularity of the uterine serosa-bladder interface are also suggestive.   


When identified antenatally, recommended surgical management is a planned, preterm cesarean-hysterectomy at 34-36 weeks, with placenta left in-situ. This approach can be individualized for women with strong future fertility desires.  All patients should be counselled regarding risks including massive blood loss and transfusion, urologic injury, and death.  Planned delivery is preferred due to lower blood loss and complications than with emergent cesarean-hysterectomy. Preoperative planning should include checklists for scheduled and emergent scenarios.


Preoperative balloon catheterization of the internal iliac or uterine arteries does not improve outcomes, increases risk, and is generally not recommended.   It is unclear if preoperative ureteral stenting is beneficial.  A three-way Foley catheter may help with bladder distention and surgical dissection.  Regional or general anesthesia can be used as clinically appropriate.   Supplemental prophylactic antibiotic doses are often necessary given hemorrhage and prolonged operative time. Patient positioning in modified dorsal lithotomy with stirrups allows for vaginal bleeding assessment, placement of vaginal packing, and room for an additional surgical assistant.


A vertical midline skin incision should be considered for exposure.  Based on preoperative ultrasound assessment, the hysterotomy should be made away from the placental location, which may require classical or fundal entry.  With elective cesarean-hysterectomy, the placenta should be left in-situ and the hysterotomy should be quickly stitched closed to facilitate hemostasis before hysterectomy.  In patients desiring fertility, manual placental removal may be cautiously attempted after adequate counseling about its association with significant complications including large blood loss and high likelihood of failure requiring hysterectomy.  Not all accreta cases are identified antenatally. Some are recognized when the placenta does not separate after fetal delivery. The multidisciplinary team and blood bank should be immediately alerted.   Intrauterine balloon tamponade may help minimize blood loss while necessary preparations are made. 


Hysterectomy is generally performed in the usual fashion.  Supracervical hysterectomy can decrease the chance of bladder or ureteral injury, however total hysterectomy may be required if there is persistent cervical bleeding.  Cases of percreta often need more extensive surgical management.


Further Reading:

Placenta accreta. Committee Opinion No. 529. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Obstet Gynecol 2012;120:207-11.


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