Science and Profession (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Obstetrics is the branch of medical science dealing with pregnancy and childbirth in women. Once conception has occurred and a woman is pregnant, major physiological changes occur within her body as well as within the body of the developing embryo or fetus. Obstetrics deals with these changes leading up to and including childbirth. As such, obstetrics is a critical branch of medicine, for it involves the complex physiological events by which every person comes into existence.
The professional obstetrician is a licensed medical doctor whose area of expertise is pregnancy and childbirth. Often, the obstetrician is also a specialist in the closely related science of gynecology, the study of diseases and conditions that specifically affect women, particularly nonpregnant women. The obstetrician is especially knowledgeable in female anatomy and physiology, including the major bodily changes that occur during and following pregnancies. Obstetricians also have a detailed understanding of the necessary diagnostic procedures for monitoring fetal and maternal health, and they are educated in the latest technologies for facilitating a successful pregnancy and childbirth with minimal complications. Obstetrical care is also provided by certified nurse midwives (C.N.M.’s) and by nurse practitioners, particularly those with certification in women’s health (women’s health care nurse practitioners).
Broadly, the diseases...
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Diagnostic and Treatment Techniques (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
The role of the obstetrician is to monitor the health of the mother and unborn fetus during the course of the pregnancy and to deliver the baby successfully at the time of birth. Once the fact of the pregnancy is established, the obstetrician is trained to identify specific developmental changes in the fetus over time in order to ensure that the pregnancy is proceeding smoothly.
The mainstay of diagnosis is the physical examination during prenatal visits. Early in the pregnancy, prenatal visits occur monthly, but they become more frequent as the pregnancy progresses. During these visits, the woman may receive counseling regarding a balanced diet, folic acid and iron supplementation, and substances or foods to avoid that may pose a risk to the pregnancy. The woman’s growing uterus is measured to confirm proper growth, and, if indicated, a vaginal or cervical examination may be performed. After ten weeks of gestational age, fetal heart tones are also assessed at every prenatal visit using a simplified ultrasonic technique, to ensure that they are within the normal number of beats per minute. Fetal heart tones that are abnormally slow may indicate a fetus in jeopardy.
The other main component of diagnosis is through laboratory tests. Early in the pregnancy, the woman will receive a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer. Blood tests will be ordered to determine whether the mother is a carrier of the...
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Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Obstetrics is central to medicine because it deals with the very process by which all humans come to exist. The health of the fetus and its mother in pregnancy is of primary concern to these doctors. The field of obstetrics has blossomed as a sophisticated specialty, more likely to be practiced by obstetricians, certified nurse midwives, and specially trained and certified nurse practitioners, rather than the general practitioners who used to provide this care.
Advances in medical technology have enabled more precise analysis and monitoring of the fetus inside the mother’s uterus, and obstetrics has therefore become a complex specialty in its own right. Technology such as ultrasonography and fetal heart rate monitoring, among other techniques, allows the obstetrician to collect a much larger supply of fetal data than was available to the general practitioner of the 1960’s. Increased data availability enables the obstetrician to monitor the pregnancy closely and to identify any problems earlier.
New advances in product development continue to improve the diagnostic ability of obstetricians. One example is the development of a test for fetal fibronection, which enables obstetricians to predict which patients are at low risk of premature delivery. This test involves a simple swab of the upper vagina. When negative, this test is highly reliable and allows the pregnant patient to leave the hospital and avoid...
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Cohen, Barbara J. Memmler’s The Human Body in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009. This short but thorough work is an excellent introduction to human anatomy and physiology for the layperson. Chapter 20, “Reproduction,” is a concise survey of human reproductive anatomy and processes and of the major events of pregnancy and childbirth.
Gabbe, Steven G., Jennifer R. Niebyl, and Joe Leigh Simpson, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2007. One of the definitive textbooks on obstetrics. Surveys the entirety of pregnancy, from conception to following childbirth, including sections on female anatomy and physiology. Also describes common and uncommon problems of pregnancy in an easy-to-read, yet complete manner.
Gaudin, Anthony J., and Kenneth C. Jones. Human Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1997. Gaudin and Jones’s introductory textbook in human anatomy and physiology is geared toward health science majors, both premedical and prenursing. They describe the subject matter in appropriate detail, with excellent illustrations and supporting material. Chapter 28, “Development and Inheritance,” offers a good discussion of the issues confronting obstetricians in their practices.
Harkness, Gail, ed....
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