New Test Can Detect Premature Births

Test for premature births

Each year, there are about 15 million premature births around the world, and a significant number of these infants are at risk of health complications. Now researchers have developed a quick and accurate test that can warn clinicians and expectant mothers whether premature birth is likely so women can be treated to stop premature labor only when necessary.

New premature birth test takes 10 minutes

Premature labor is labor that starts before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. The earlier an infant is born, the more severe his or her health challenges can be, and they can include respiratory problems, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, vision problems, hearing loss, and digestive disorders, among others.

The new premature birth test was developed by researchers at Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital in London, and it will be used to replace the current test, which takes more than twice as long to get results and also is less reliable.

The new test relies on measurement of fetal fibronectin (fFN), a protein that leaks out of the womb and into the cervix in women at high risk of having a premature birth. Clinicians simply take a swab of the cervix and look for the protein on the slide. High levels of fFN indicate a woman's chances of having a premature infant within the next 14 days are doubled
Access to this test is important because it can reduce stress for women who might otherwise be given unnecessary treatment to ward off premature birth. Only 5 percent of women who currently receive treatment for possible premature birth actually give birth prematurely, which means the vast majority of women are being treated unnecessarily.


Treatments to postpone labor, which can include drugs such as magnesium sulfate, calcium channel blockers (e.g., nifedipine), beta-adrenergic receptor agonists (eg., terbutaline), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., indomethacin) can cause side effects, such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure, vaginal bleeding, constipation, breathing problems, double vision, seizures, and fluid in the lungs, among other problems.

According to the study's leader, Professor Andrew Shennan, the new premature birth test "reduces the need for low-risk women to stay in for observation or get treatment when they don't have to." Based on the results of the trials, 75 percent of women who had a high fFN reading gave birth before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

For now, the new test is being used at more than 130 hospitals in the United Kingdom. In addition to preventing many women from undergoing unnecessary treatment, the new premature birth test also offers significant cost savings.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Guy's and St Thomas Hospital
March of Dimes

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