Predicting preterm birth still nearly impossible, study in New England Journal finds

Prevention is key, March of Dimes says

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., JAN. 24 Hopes of finding a reliable way to predict a womans risk of having a premature baby were dashed today by the findings of a randomized clinical trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the March of Dimes says.

In the study, women used a home monitor to measure their uterine contractions. However, the testing failed to distinguish between those women who eventually had a preterm birth (before 37 weeks of gestation) and those who had a full-term delivery. The authors also note that other current tests, such as ultrasound and fetal fibronectin, also have low predictive value.

Once again, we see that its nearly impossible with the technology we have today to accurately predict who is going to give birth to a premature baby, says Nancy S. Green, M.D., acting medical director of the March of Dimes. And the problem is only getting worse, because prematurity in America is on the rise -- the rate of premature birth has increased by 23 percent since the 1980s.

Dr. Green points out that a separate study published in last weeks issue of NEJM showed that many babies born prematurely or at low birthweight (less than 5-1/2 pounds) had lower IQs, more serious problems with learning, and more chronic health problems that persisted into young adulthood. Prematurity and low birthweight account for more than 90 percent of all newborn deaths in the United States.

If we truly want to help more babies be born healthy and lead healthy lives, we need more research aimed at preventing prematurity from occurring in the first place, Dr. Green says.

Dr. Green said that since 1998, the March of Dimes has awarded nearly $8 million in grants to investigate biological and environmental factors that may contribute to the more than 450,000 preterm or low birthweight births each year in the United States. As part of this unique research p

Contact: Michele Kling
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

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