Finding out who’s at risk: how can we predict preterm labour?

Ms Jenny Carter, Dr Rachel Tribe, Professor Jane Sandall, Professor Andrew Shennan, Mr Paul Seed

Researchers supported by Tommy’s are building a tool for women with symptoms of threatened preterm labour, to work out how at risk they are of premature birth.

Most women who have symptoms that suggest they’ll give birth prematurely – like contractions or pain in their stomach – actually go on to have their baby at full term. Even so, a lot of women are treated 'just in case,' as the consequences of not doing anything could be devastating.

We want to make it easier to tell which women who have symptoms of threatened preterm labour (TPTL) are actually at risk. Treating women who are not likely to deliver early can be unnecessarily stressful for parents, and treatments may have their own side effects. If we can avoid this, we can concentrate on giving help to women who really need it, without worrying those who don’t.

Researchers will look at around 1,200 women with symptoms of TPTL to try and build a tool that can tell how likely a woman is to go into premature labour. They will look at many different risk factors, as well as testing for a substance called fetal fibronectin, which has been linked to preterm birth. Some women will also have their cervixes measured using an ultrasound scan – a shorter cervix means a higher likelihood of early labour. Based on all of these together, each woman will be given a score of how likely they are to give birth near in the future.

The findings from this study will be used to develop our QUIPP app, a tool that can help doctors decide who is at risk of premature birth.

As of September 2017, we are on target with 1,099 women recruited so far.

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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's and the National Institute for Health Research

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