Blood Test Helping To Predict Premature Birth
Premature birth is the main cause of disability and death for babies globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks gestation, and around 1 million children under the age of 5 die due to complications of premature birth.
A team of researchers from Australia and Canada has developed a blood test which can identify women who are at risk for premature birth.
The breakthrough test can predict the risk of premature birth as early as 18 weeks gestation, and before symptoms are present.
What Does The Test Do?
The blood test has identified 6 genes in the mother’s blood, which are related to communication between white blood cells. It’s been known for some time white blood cells are a marker of early labour.
This new research has identified the gene expression in women’s blood, which occurs well before labour begins, or any symptoms of premature labour are obvious.
Read more about signs of premature labour.
The blood test study showed an accuracy rate of 86%.
Currently, women who are at risk for premature birth are offered a vaginal swab and a cervical ultrasound, which have an accuracy rate of 65%.
What Does This Mean For Pregnant Women?
It means that wherever they are, women can have a simple blood test and find out their probability risk for preterm labour. This is especially useful for women who live some distance away from medical assistance.
By the time symptoms of premature labour are obvious, there is less time available for doctors to try to prevent labour from continuing. Often, the best that can be done is to keep the uterus from contracting, by using drugs called tocolytics.
These drugs suppress contractions for days or weeks, allowing critical time for your baby to receive steroids to promote maturing of the lungs. They can also provide time for you to be transferred to a hospital that has a neonatal intensive care unit to care for your baby once he is born.
Can This Test Prevent Premature Birth?
The World Health Organization believes up to 75% of deaths that occur due to premature births could be prevented if women had access to current interventions.
As early as the middle of pregnancy, if women are aware they are at risk of premature birth, they can access specialist health care and interventions that could significantly lower the risk.
The blood test is to be further tested on both high and low risk women in Australia. It is hoped more positive results will mean the test becomes widely available to women around the world in around five years time, in conjunction with the 18-20 week fetal morphology scan.
Recommended Reading: Pre-Conception Checklist – How To Prepare For Pregnancy.