Common Methods for Preventing Preterm Birth May Not Work

Two separate studies have found fault with some common tests and medications used to slash preterm birth risk. Here's what you need to know.

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Two separate studies have identified faults with some common methods for preventing preterm birth. These methods don't appear to be effective, according to the research—and one may even have adverse effects.

Two common tests aren't effective in predicting preterm birth risk

The first study looks at two tests that are commonly administered to monitor a woman's risk of giving birth prematurely. Researchers from the University of Utah analyzed transvaginal cervical measurement and fetal fibronectin tests and found these tests are not effective in predicting preterm births in low-risk pregnancies—even if the two tests are used together. Researchers from eight different clinical centers performed these tests at three different points in pregnancies they observed to come to this finding. The women studied were all pregnant for the first time with no history of miscarriage after 20 weeks gestation. The first test looks for cervical thinning via a transvaginal ultrasound. The second measures a protein found between the membrane and uterus lining via a vaginal swab. But according to the researchers, neither test could accurately pinpoint preterm birth risk. 

"This answers a couple of questions," study author Sean Esplin, MD, said, according to a release for the study. "Transvaginal cervical length and fetal fibronectin measured at different times during pregnancy are poor screening tests for predicting preterm births, alone or in combination. In a low-risk population, if we rely only on these tests to identify women who are highest risk, we're going to miss the vast majority."

This drug might do more harm than good

A synthetic progestogen hormone called 17-alpha hydroxyprogesterone caproate (also known as Makena) is commonly used to bring down preterm birth risk in women who have histories of giving birth early. But according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the drug is ineffective. What's more, the researchers suggest it may also increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Research on the already controversial drug was carried out at UT Southwestern, where the study's authors observed 430 women who were being treated with the it. Researchers compared the preterm birth rate among this group with the hospital's preterm birth between years 1988 and 2011. A whopping 25 percent of the women who took the drug gave birth before 35 weeks gestation—and only 16.8 percent of women who gave birth at the hospital gave birth prematurely. Now, it's worth considering that women on the drug had risk factors for preterm delivery, but these findings led researchers to believe the drug may not be effective. Women in the group also had a higher gestational diabetes rates (13.4 percent as compared to the hospital's historic rate of 8 percent).

The takeaway

Neither study should be taken as gospel, but the findings might warrant a discussion with your doctor. If you're not at risk for preterm delivery, testing may not be necessary—and if you are, your doctor might work to come with a better course of treatment than this particular drug.