Diagnosis of early preterm labour

Authors

  • A Herbst,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lund University Hospital, Lund, Sweden
      Dr A Herbst, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lund University Hospital, S-221 58 Lund, Sweden. Email andreas.herbst@gyn.lu.se
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  • C Nilsson

    1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lund University Hospital, Lund, Sweden
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Dr A Herbst, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lund University Hospital, S-221 58 Lund, Sweden. Email andreas.herbst@gyn.lu.se

Abstract

While preterm contractions occur almost as often extremely preterm as they do closer to term, birth due to spontaneous preterm labour before 27 weeks of gestation is rare, accounting for 0.05–0.7% of all births in different populations. Although the likelihood that uterine contractions before 27 weeks of gestation represent true preterm labour is low, the risk of adverse outcome in such cases is high. A correct diagnosis is important, and a useful diagnostic test should have a high sensitivity. In most reports, only 30–40% of women hospitalised for spontaneous preterm labour experience a preterm birth, suggesting a low positive predictive value of clinical diagnosis based on uterine contractions and vaginal examination. Transvaginal ultrasonographic scanning (TVUSS) of cervical length has shown a high sensitivity for preterm birth, 90–100% for preterm birth before 33–35 weeks, using a liberal cutoff at 30 mm. Assessment of cervicovaginal fetal fibronectin (FFN) levels has shown a sensitivity of about 80%. Adding FFN assessment to TVUSS might contribute insignificantly to the prediction of preterm birth. In a retrospective study of 147 women with spontaneous preterm labour and intact membranes before 27 weeks in our department, 61% of hospitalised women and 77% of women receiving tocolytic infusion therapy delivered before 32 weeks. Among 66 singleton pregnancies delivered before 32 weeks, at admission, 94% either had an effaced cervix or cervix with ≥2 cm dilation (74%), vaginal bleeding (61%) or serum C-reactive protein level >20 mg/l (40%), whereas one of these findings only was present in 18% of women who delivered at later gestations. Among 132 women with symptoms of spontaneous preterm contractions before 27 weeks not admitted for hospital care, only 2 (1.5%) delivered before 32 weeks, not significantly higher than for all other women (0.6%). Although TVUSS may be useful when the diagnosis of spontaneous preterm labour is in doubt, the main predicament in early spontaneous preterm labour may not be to predict preterm birth but to prevent it, since many women appear in advanced labour or with manifest chorioamnionitis.

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