Machine learning on cardiotocography data to classify fetal outcomes: A scoping review

Farah Francis*, Saturnino Luz, Honghan Wu, Sarah J Stock, Rosemary Townsend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Introduction: Uterine contractions during labour constrict maternal blood flow and oxygen delivery to the developing baby, causing transient hypoxia. While most babies are physiologically adapted to withstand such intrapartum hypoxia, those exposed to severe hypoxia or with poor physiological reserves may experience neurological injury or death during labour. Cardiotocography (CTG) monitoring was developed to identify babies at risk of hypoxia by detecting changes in fetal heart rate (FHR) patterns. CTG monitoring is in widespread use in intrapartum care for the detection of fetal hypoxia, but the clinical utility is limited by a relatively poor positive predictive value (PPV) of an abnormal CTG and significant inter and intra observer variability in CTG interpretation. Clinical risk and human factors may impact the quality of CTG interpretation. Misclassification of CTG traces may lead to both under-treatment (with the risk of fetal injury or death) or over-treatment (which may include unnecessary operative interventions that put both mother and baby at risk of complications). Machine learning (ML) has been applied to this problem since early 2000 and has shown potential to predict fetal hypoxia more accurately than visual interpretation of CTG alone. To consider how these tools might be translated for clinical practice, we conducted a review of ML techniques already applied to CTG classification and identified research gaps requiring investigation in order to progress towards clinical implementation. Materials and method: We used identified keywords to search databases for relevant publications on PubMed, EMBASE and IEEE Xplore. We used Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR). Title, abstract and full text were screened according to the inclusion criteria. Results: We included 36 studies that used signal processing and ML techniques to classify CTG. Most studies used an open-access CTG database and predominantly used fetal metabolic acidosis as the benchmark for hypoxia with varying pH levels. Various methods were used to process and extract CTG signals and several ML algorithms were used to classify CTG. We identified significant concerns over the practicality of using varying pH levels as the CTG classification benchmark. Furthermore, studies needed to be more generalised as most used the same database with a low number of subjects for an ML study. Conclusion: ML studies demonstrate potential in predicting fetal hypoxia from CTG. However, more diverse datasets, standardisation of hypoxia benchmarks and enhancement of algorithms and features are needed for future clinical implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108220
Number of pages18
JournalComputers in Biology and Medicine
Early online date7 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Machine learning
  • Cardiotocography
  • Fetal hypoxia
  • Signal processing
  • Obstetrics


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