Ultrasound Imaging Reveals Correlation Between Shortened Cervix and Premature Birth

 

Orange County, CA - February 2nd 2018 -  Every year in the United States more than 440,000 babies are born prematurely. A baby qualifies as premature when born prior to the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born beforehand are predisposed to the development of numerous health problems including behavior and neurological disorders, as well as physical ailments like pneumonia and meningitis. Medical bills for these babies account for nearly $30 billion to date.

Ultrasound technology is traditionally used on pregnant women to study the anatomy, movement, and blood flow of the developing fetus. However, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are using ultrasound imaging to detect women at risk of giving premature births.

UIC researchers, led by Barbara McFarlin, professor of nursing, received a five-year $2.84 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to create techniques for the accurate prediction of preterm birth. "By recognizing which women are at risk, health care professionals could provide early treatments and closely monitor these treatments to prevent preterm birth or to improve health outcomes," McFarlin said.

Ultrasound Imaging Helps Women Identify Premature Births

Currently, there is no standard method in the prediction of a premature birth however physicians have noticed a correlation between these instances and a shortened cervix (the lower part of the uterus) in the patient. McFarlin and her engineering colleague, William O'Brien Jr., a research professor at the Urbana-Champaign campus, are beginning to examine cervical changes on a microscopic level to predict birthing patterns.

As part of McFarlin’s upcoming study, eight hundred women will be divided into three groups: women who at 20 weeks of pregnancy have a shortened cervix, women who have previously had a premature birth, and a low-risk control group. Over the course of the study participants will undergo two cervix ultrasound examinations- one at 20 weeks of pregnancy and again at the 24 week mark. "At 17 to 20 weeks of pregnancy we were able to predict who was going to deliver preterm," McFarlin said. "We found that before the length of the cervix shortens, the microscopic tissue structure has to change and the collagen remodels."

In addition to ongoing research using ultrasound technology, McFarlin plans to learn how the pregnant women respond to progesterone, a natural hormone used as the standard treatment for women who have previously delivered a baby preterm or who have a short cervix, in hopes of prevention. Progesterone only reduces the likelihood of prematurity by 40 percent, McFarlin said. "We want to find out what occurs with the other women and why it does not work," she said. Along with inevitable advances in ultrasound technology, future clinical studies will continue to add to premature birth education and prevention.

  

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