New blood test calculates risk for preterm birth

Oct 21, 2017

You're pregnant! While you may have a lot of questions, one of the most important is when you'll meet this new baby. You get the news at one of your first doctors appointments and rush home to mark your due date on the calendar, tell your family and friends, and begin one of the most important count downs of your life. Usually, you rely on that date as being the start of your new lives together.

One in ten babies in the United States is born prematurely, though, and while some women are more likely to deliver pre-term, most women don’t show any symptoms. Dr. Jill Hechtman the medical director of Tampa Obstetrics. She joins us this week to discuss a new test that could help predict the likelihood of a woman delivering early.

Pre-term births are between 20 and 37 weeks, with the range of viability starting at between 23 and 24 weeks. While this could happen to any woman, there are a few factors that contribute to pre-term births:

  • Reproductive system problems
  • Infection
  • Chronic illness
  • Stress
  • Physical Injury
  • Poor nutrition
  • Conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Carrying multiples (twins, triplets and more)

If you do experience labor symptoms you should see a doctor right away. If caught early enough medication can be given to stop contractions or to stimulate fetal lung and brain development.

“Common signs and symptoms are contractions that occur in ten minute or less intervals, vaginal or fluid leakage from the vagina, cramping in the lower abdomen, back pain, discharge, sometimes just not feel[ing] right -- flu like symptoms can be a sign of preterm labor,” said Hechtman.

The PreTrm Test

The PreTrm test is a new blood test done in the nineteenth to twentieth week of pregnancy that could detect if you are at a higher risk.

“It uses sophisticated technology to measure and analyze specific proteins in the blood which have been shown to be highly predictive of pre-term birth,” said Hechtman.

Knowing the risk of delivering pre-term can help doctors plan your care better. This may mean more frequent testing to monitor for changes and even medication to prolong pregnancy. 

“We would use tools such as cervical lengths that we get via ultrasound, measuring their cervix to see if we pick up any subtle changes ahead of time. We also use a medication commonly called progesterone which is given either in a shot form once a week, or placed vaginally every evening, which can help prolong pregnancy,” said Hechtman. “Sometimes we give those medications to stop contractions.”

While this test is advanced in that it's providing doctors and patients information on their risk of delivering pre-term, it does not predict how early the baby will be born.

“It does not give a time frame; it just tells us who’s at risk of preterm labor. That in of itself gives us a lot of information because these are women that we wouldn’t necessarily think were at risk before,” said Hechtman.