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Analysis of preterm deliveries below 35 weeks' gestation in a tertiary referral hospital in the UK. A case-control survey

Wei Yuan1, Anne M Duffner1, Lina Chen2, Linda P Hunt3, Susan M Sellers4 and Andrés López Bernal1*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Bristol, Department of Clinical Science at South Bristol (Obstetrics and Gynaecology), St Michael's Hospital, Southwell St. Bristol, BS2 8EG. UK

2 University of Bristol, Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol, BS8 2PR. UK

3 University of Bristol, Dept of Clinical Sciences at South Bristol, Institute of Child Life and Health, Education Centre, Upper Maudlin Street, Bristol, BS2 8AE. UK

4 University Hospitals Bristol, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St Michael's Hospital, Southwell St. Bristol, BS2 8EG. UK

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:119  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-119

Published: 28 April 2010



Preterm birth remains a major public health problem and its incidence worldwide is increasing. Epidemiological risk factors have been investigated in the past, but there is a need for a better understanding of the causes of preterm birth in well defined obstetric populations in tertiary referral centres; it is important to repeat surveillance and identify possible changes in clinical and socioeconomic factors associated with preterm delivery. The aim of this study was to identify current risk factors associated with preterm delivery and highlight areas for further research.


We studied women with singleton deliveries at St Michael's Hospital, Bristol during 2002 and 2003. 274 deliveries between 23-35 weeks' gestation (preterm group), were compared to 559 randomly selected control deliveries at term (37-42 weeks) using standard statistical procedures. Both groups were >80% Caucasian. Previous preterm deliveries, high maternal age (> 39 years), socioeconomic problems, smoking during pregnancy, hypertension, psychiatric disorders and uterine abnormalities were significantly associated with preterm deliveries. Both lean and obese mothers were more common in the preterm group. Women with depression/psychiatric disease were significantly more likely to have social problems, to have smoked during pregnancy and to have had previous preterm deliveries; when adjustments for these three factors were made the relationship between psychiatric disease and pregnancy outcome was no longer significant. 53% of preterm deliveries were spontaneous, and were strongly associated with episodes of threatened preterm labour. Medically indicated preterm deliveries were associated with hypertension and fetal growth restriction. Preterm premature rupture of the membranes, vaginal bleeding, anaemia and oligohydramnios were significantly increased in both spontaneous and indicated preterm deliveries compared to term controls.


More than 50% of preterm births are potentially preventable, but remain associated with risk factors such as increased uterine contractility, preterm premature rupture of the membranes and uterine bleeding whose aetiology is unknown. Despite remarkable advances in perinatal care, preterm birth continues to cause neonatal deaths and long-term morbidity. Significant breakthroughs in the management of preterm birth are likely to come from research into the mechanisms of human parturition and the pathophysiology of preterm labour using multidisciplinary clinical and laboratory approaches.