Stress Hormone Levels Predict Length Of Gestation In Human Pregnancy

Levels of a stress hormone, corticoptropin-releasing hormone (CRH), measured in mothers in the early third trimester of pregnancy may predict the length of gestation and preterm delivery, according to a study by a University of Kentucky researcher working in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, Irvine. The findings are reported in today's American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Previous studies have implicated maternal stress as an important risk factor of prematurity-related outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birthweight. CRH, a hormone released primarily in the brain, is known to play a central role in regulating the body's hormonal and immune responses to internal and external challenges, including stress. During pregnancy, CRH is also synthesized in large amounts by the placenta and is released into maternal and fetal circulatory systems.

In previous studies, elevated levels of maternal CRH have been associated with the presence of medical complications in pregnancy and with preterm labor. It was not clear, however, whether CRH was a marker of complications or whether the CRH played a role in influencing the timing of onset of labor.

Researchers sought to determine whether elevated levels of CRH were a predictor of preterm labor and delivery, and if the effects of CRH on the timing of delivery were independent from those of medical complications during pregnancy.

"Our results indicated that women with higher CRH levels at 28 to 30 weeks gestation delivered earlier and were more likely to deliver preterm," said Pathik D. Wadhwa, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychology, UK College of Medicine.

Sixty-three pregnant women had blood drawn during the early third trimester - 28 to 30 weeks of gestation. Blood samples were measured for CRH and medical risk factors for prematurity were assessed from the women's medica

Contact: Kim Cumbie
University of Kentucky Medical Center

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