Preterm birth is the leading cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality worldwide, and is the most important challenge to modern obstetrics. A major obstacle has been that preterm birth is treated (implicitly or explicitly) as a single condition. Two thirds of preterm births occur after the spontaneous onset of labor, and the remaining one third after “indicated” preterm birth; however, the causes of spontaneous preterm labor and “indicated” preterm birth are different. Spontaneous preterm birth is a syndrome caused by multiple etiologies, one of which is a decline in progesterone action, which induces cervical ripening. A sonographic short cervix (identified in the midtrimester) is a powerful predictor of spontaneous preterm delivery. Randomized clinical trials and individual patient meta-analyses have shown that vaginal progesterone reduces the rate of preterm delivery at <33 weeks of gestation by 44%, along with the rate of admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, respiratory distress syndrome, requirement for mechanical ventilation, and composite neonatal morbidity/mortality score. There is no evidence that 17-α-hydroxyprogesterone caproate can reduce the rate of preterm delivery in women with a short cervix, and therefore, the compound of choice is natural progesterone (not the synthetic progestin). Routine assessment of the risk of preterm birth with cervical ultrasound coupled with vaginal progesterone for women with a short cervix is cost-effective, and the implementation of such a policy is urgently needed. Vaginal progesterone is as effective as cervical cerclage in reducing the rate of preterm delivery in women with a singleton gestation, history of preterm birth, and a short cervix (<25 mm).
©2012 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston