The prevention, diagnosis and treatment of premature labor

Ekkehard Schleu├čner
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2013, 110 (13): 227-35; quiz 236

BACKGROUND: The percentage of preterm births in Germany is high at 9%, but stable. 77% of cases of perinatal death are in prematurely born infants. Intensive research efforts are being directed toward the development of new means of primary and secondary prevention, diagnostic assessment, and pharmacotherapy of premature labor.

METHODS: We review pertinent publications that were retrieved by a selective search of the literature from 1966 to 2012, including current meta-analyses from the Cochrane database and the guidelines of German and foreign obstetric societies.

RESULTS: Preterm labor is a multifactorial problem. The current treatment options are symptomatic, rather than causally directed. Preventive treatment with progesterone can lower the rate of preterm birth in high-risk groups by more than 30%. Transporting the pregnant women to an appropriately qualified perinatal care center and induction of fetal lung maturation lowers perinatal mortality. A variety of tocolytic drugs with different mechanisms of action (betamimetics, oxytocin antagonists, calcium-channel blockers, NO donors, and inhibitors of prostaglandin synthesis) can be used for individualized tocolytic treatment. Premature rupture of the membranes is an indication for antibiotics.

CONCLUSION: The goal of all attempts to prevent and treat preterm labor is to improve preterm infants' chances of surviving with as few complications as possible. The methods discussed here can be used to prolong pregnancies at risk for preterm labor and so to reduce perinatal morbidity and mortality.

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