By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
April 6, 2011 -- Progesterone gel may reduce the chances of early preterm birth in some women who are considered high risk, according to new research in Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Babies born too early are at risk for many health problems, including breathing difficulty, blindness, deafness, and learning disabilities.
One out of every eight babies born in the U.S. is born prematurely, according to the March of Dimes. No one knows exactly what causes preterm birth, but there are certain risk factors, including history of preterm birth, carrying twins or triplets, and certain problems with the uterus or cervix.
Women in the study were at risk for preterm delivery because of a short cervix. The cervix is the part of the uterus that softens and dilates during labor. Adequate progesterone levels are needed to support a healthy pregnancy, and a short cervix may be a sign that progesterone is in short supply.
"Our study demonstrates that progesterone gel reduces the rate of early preterm delivery -- less than 33 weeks -- in women with a short cervix," Roberto Romero, MD, program head for Perinatology Research and Obstetrics and chief of the Perinatology Research Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md., says in a news release. "Women with a short cervix can be identified through routine ultrasound screening. Once identified, they could be offered treatment with progesterone."
The new study included 458 women who had a short cervix, from 44 medical centers across the globe. Women received a vaginal progesterone gel or a placebo gel between their 19th and 23rd week of pregnancy. Progesterone gel reduced the risk of preterm birth by 45% among women with a short cervix, the study showed.
There was an 8.9% rate of preterm delivery before 33 weeks among women who used the progesterone gel, compared with a 16.1% rate seen among women in the placebo group. What's more, babies born to women who received the progesterone gel were also less likely to have respiratory distress syndrome.
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