Progesterone therapy could prevent thousands of preterm births

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., JAN. 31, 2005 -- Nearly 10,000 preterm births could have been prevented in 2002 if all pregnant women at high risk for a premature baby and eligible for weekly injections of a derivative of the hormone progesterone had received them, according to a new study published in the February issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The result would have been a reduction in the overall rate of preterm birth (before 37 completed weeks gestation) in the United States of about 2 percent -- from the 2002 rate of 12.1 percent to 11.8 percent -- say Joann R. Petrini, Ph.D., M.P.H., and colleagues from the March of Dimes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Maimonides Medical Center in New York, and the New Jersey and Missouri State Departments of Health who participated in the analyses.

The hormone derivative is known as 17P, short for 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate.

"Two percent would be a modest reduction in the preterm birth rate, but preventing 10,000 premature births would be very significant," said Dr. Petrini. "Prematurity is a serious problem that affects 1 in 8 babies in the U.S., and 17P offers promise in an area where there have been few successes. In addition, we need more research into the underlying causes of prematurity to help women with other risk factors."

Assumptions used to estimate the impact of 17P on recurrent preterm birth were based on criteria from the promising findings of the clinical trial reported by Paul J. Meis, M.D., et al. for the NICHD Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network in The New England Journal of Medicine on June 12, 2003. These study results led to the 2003 Committee Opinion issued by the American College of Obstetrician's and Gynecologists, published in the October 2003 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

In the NICHD MFMU study

Contact: Michele Kling
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

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