This one test could identify whether or not you're at risk of giving birth prematurely, which could mean major changes for high risk pregnancies.
Giving birth prematurely is always a danger—but recent news indicates that a biomarker test during pregnancy could predict your risk of preterm birth and in turn, provide increased care to women who are at risk.
While there are several historic factors that determine a woman's risk of giving birth prematurely (including a history of preterm births or miscarriages), there are also a few biological indicators. These include length of a woman's cervix and the levels of a biomarker found in vaginal fluid. If this fluid, which is known as fetal fibronectic, crosses a threshold of 50ng/mL, a woman is considered to be at higher risk. A simple test of a woman's vaginal fluid can yield these results, which could prompt high-risk women to seek the care they need.
Predictor not the cause
The author of a recent study on this topic spoke to Fit Pregnancy about what this new method of testing could mean for maternal care in the future.
"[These biomarkers] may not be the cause [of preterm pregnancy,] but as they leak into the vagina when the womb and membranes disrupt and when the cervix shortens, they are good predictors of early delivery. There are many causes of this disruption, but the biomarker detects the end result which is why it is so reliable," Andrew Shennan, M.D., said.
Dr. Shennan's study compared measurements obtained from a fetal fibronectin test: The test showed that just 3.8 percent of high risk women surveyed whose fetal fibronectin test measured under 10 ng/mL delivered before 34 weeks gestation. The measurements were taken between 18 and 21 weeks gestation and the results they yielded were as predictive as measurements taken between 22 and 27 weeks gestation—which means that women may be able to better understand their risks early in their pregnancies.
According to Dr. Shennan, the test is available now and only takes about ten minutes to complete. It's done during the 18th week of pregnancy and he believes taking the test will become the norm for women who show risk factors, but that all pregnant women could benefit from taking it. The test is available in the US, according to Dr. Shennan, and will be administered to women who may be high-risk.
There's an app for that
As if the test weren't enough of a game-changer, there's also literally an app for that (and by "that," we mean assessing your risk of preterm birth.) The app is called "QuiPP" and it calculates the gestation of previous pregnancies and the length of the cervix along with levels of fetal fibronectin to assess a woman's risk of giving birth preterm. The app has been tested and appears to be a reliable predictor of preterm birth. You can download it for free here. The app is a great supplement to the actual test—but according to Dr. Shennan, it can't replace your doctor's appointment. "The tests need to be done by a doctor to obtain the information for the app, and the management and counseling will still need to be done by a doctor," he said.
"Many [pregnant women] will be reassured and avoid unnecessary visits, tests and treatment and a lot of worry. Those at risk [for preterm birth] can be closely monitored and given better, cost-effective care," Dr. Shennan said, adding that treatment for those at risk could include "cervical stitches, progesterone hormone treatments or even rubber rings put around the neck of the womb."