To identify combinations of tests and treatments to predict and prevent spontaneous preterm birth.
Searches were run on the following databases up to September 2005 inclusive: MEDLINE, EMBASE, DARE, the Cochrane Library (CENTRAL and Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group trials register) and MEDION. We also contacted experts including the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group and checked reference lists of review articles and papers that were eligible for inclusion.
Two series of systematic reviews were performed: (1) accuracy of tests for the prediction of spontaneous preterm birth in asymptomatic women in early pregnancy and in women symptomatic with threatened preterm labour in later pregnancy; (2) effectiveness of interventions with potential to reduce cases of spontaneous preterm birth in asymptomatic women in early pregnancy and to reduce spontaneous preterm birth or improve neonatal outcome in women with a viable pregnancy symptomatic of threatened preterm labour. For the health economic evaluation, a model-based analysis incorporated the combined effect of tests and treatments and their cost-effectiveness.
Of the 22 tests reviewed for accuracy, the quality of studies and accuracy of tests was generally poor. Only a few tests had LR+ > 5. In asymptomatic women these were ultrasonographic cervical length measurement and cervicovaginal prolactin and fetal fibronectin screening for predicting spontaneous preterm birth before 34 weeks. In this group, tests with LR- < 0.2 were detection of uterine contraction by home uterine monitoring and amniotic fluid C-reactive protein (CRP) measurement. In symptomatic women with threatened preterm labour, tests with LR+ > 5 were absence of fetal breathing movements, cervical length and funnelling, amniotic fluid interleukin-6 (IL-6), serum CRP for predicting birth within 2-7 days of testing, and matrix metalloprotease-9, amniotic fluid IL-6, cervicovaginal fetal fibronectin and cervicovaginal human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) for predicting birth before 34 or 37 weeks. In this group, tests with LR- < 0.2 included measurement of cervicovaginal IL-8, cervicovaginal hCG, cervical length measurement, absence of fetal breathing movement, amniotic fluid IL-6 and serum CRP, for predicting birth within 2-7 days of testing, and cervicovaginal fetal fibronectin and amniotic fluid IL-6 for predicting birth before 34 or 37 weeks. The overall quality of the trials included in the 40 interventional topics reviewed for effectiveness was also poor. Antibiotic treatment was generally not beneficial but when used to treat bacterial vaginosis in women with intermediate flora it significantly reduced the incidence of spontaneous preterm birth. Smoking cessation programmes, progesterone, periodontal therapy and fish oil appeared promising as preventative interventions in asymptomatic women. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents were the most effective tocolytic agent for reducing spontaneous preterm birth and prolonging pregnancy in symptomatic women. Antenatal corticosteroids had a beneficial effect on the incidence of respiratory distress syndrome and the risk of intraventricular haemorrhage (28-34 weeks), but the effects of repeat courses were unclear. For asymptomatic women, costs ranged from 1.08 pounds for vitamin C to 1219 pounds for cervical cerclage, whereas costs for symptomatic women were more significant and varied little, ranging from 1645 pounds for nitric oxide donors to 2555 pounds for terbutaline; this was because the cost of hospitalisation was included. The best estimate of additional average cost associated with a case of spontaneous preterm birth was approximately 15,688 pounds for up to 34 weeks and 12,104 pounds for up to 37 weeks. Among symptomatic women there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions for preventing birth at 34 weeks. Hydration given to women testing positive for amniotic fluid IL-6 was the most cost-effective test-treatment combination. Indomethacin given to all women without any initial testing was the most cost-effective option for preventing birth before 37 weeks among symptomatic women. For a symptomatic woman, the most cost-effective test-treatment combination for postponing delivery by at least 48 h was the cervical length (15 mm) measurement test with treatment with indomethacin for all those testing positive. This combination was also the most cost-effective option for postponing delivery by at least 7 days. Antibiotic treatment for asymptomatic bacteriuria of all women without any initial testing was the most cost-effective option for preventing birth before 37 weeks among asymptomatic women but this does not take into account the potential side effects of antibiotics or issues such as increased resistance.
For primary prevention, an effective, affordable and safe intervention applied to all mothers without preceding testing is likely to be the most cost-effective approach in asymptomatic women in early pregnancy. For secondary prevention among women at risk of preterm labour in later pregnancy, a management strategy based on the results of testing is likely to be more cost-effective. Implementation of a treat-all strategy with simple interventions, such as fish oils, would be premature for asymptomatic women. Universal provision of high-quality ultrasound machines in labour wards is more strongly indicated for predicting spontaneous preterm birth among symptomatic women than direct management, although staffing issues and the feasibility and acceptability to mothers and health providers of such strategies need to be explored. Further research should include investigations of low-cost and effective tests and treatments to reduce and delay spontaneous preterm birth and reduce the risk of perinatal mortality arising from preterm birth.