Cervical assessment by ultrasound for preventing preterm delivery

Preterm birth before 37 weeks is the main cause of death and disability for neonates. The lower part of the uterus, called the cervix, is the opening or passage through which births, including preterm, occur. Ultrasound performed through the vagina can detect early changes of the cervix that predict preterm birth. This review assessed if knowledge of such changes can prevent preterm birth. Of the 13 trials identified, five (507 women) were eligible for inclusion. Currently, the studies reported are insufficient to recommend ultrasound of the cervix for prevention of preterm birth. Since there is a tendency for knowledge of the results of the cervical ultrasound to be associated with a lower chance of preterm birth in women who have uterine contractions and preterm labor, further research should be encouraged.

Authors' conclusions: 

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening of asymptomatic or symptomatic pregnant women with TVU CL. Since there is a non-significant association between knowledge of TVU CL results and a lower incidence of PTB at less than 37 weeks in symptomatic women, we encourage further research. Future studies should look at specific populations separately (e.g., singleton versus twins; symptoms of PTL or no such symptoms), report on all pertinent maternal and perinatal outcomes, and include cost-effectiveness analyses. Most importantly, future studies should include a clear protocol for management of women based on TVU CL results, so that it can be easily evaluated and replicated.

Read the full abstract...

Measurement of cervical length (CL) by transvaginal ultrasound (TVU) is predictive of preterm birth (PTB). It is unclear if this screening test is effective for prevention of PTB.


To assess the effectiveness of antenatal management based on transvaginal ultrasound of cervical length (TVU CL) screening for preventing PTB.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (31 August 2012), reviewed the reference lists of all articles and contacted experts in the field for additional and ongoing trials.

Selection criteria: 

Published and unpublished randomized controlled trials including pregnant women between the gestational ages of 14 to 32 weeks screened with TVU CL for risk of PTB. This review focuses exclusively on studies based on knowledge versus no knowledge of TVU CL results.

Data collection and analysis: 

All potential studies identified from the search were independently assessed for inclusion by three review authors. We also analyzed studies for quality measures and extracted data.

Main results: 

Of the 13 trials identified, five were eligible for inclusion (n = 507). Three included singleton gestations with preterm labor (PTL); one included singleton gestations with preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM); and one included twin gestations with or without PTL.

In the three trials of singleton gestations with PTL, 290 women were randomized; 147 to knowledge and 143 to no knowledge of TVU CL. Knowledge of TVU CL results was associated with a non-significant decrease in PTB at less than 37 weeks (22.3% versus 34.7%, respectively; average risk ratio 0.59, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.26 to 1.32; two trials, 242 women) and at less than 34 weeks (6.9% verus 12.6%; RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.25 to 1.20; three trials, 256 women). Delivery occurred at a later gestational age in the knowledge versus no knowledge groups (mean difference (MD) 0.64 weeks, 95% CI 0.03 to 1.25; three trials, 290 women). For all other outcomes for which there were available data (PTB at less than 34 or 28 weeks; birthweight less than 2500 grams; perinatal death; maternal hospitalization; tocolysis; and steroids for fetal lung maturity), there was no evidence of a difference between groups.

The trial of singleton gestations with PPROM (n = 92) evaluated as its primary outcome safety of TVU CL in this population, and not its effect on management. There was no evidence of a difference in incidence of maternal and neonatal infections between the TVU CL and no TVU CL groups.

In the trial of twin gestations with or without PTL (n = 125), there was no evidence of a difference in PTB at less than 36, 34, or 30 weeks, gestational age at delivery, and other perinatal and maternal outcomes between the TVU CL and the no TVU CL groups. Life-table analysis revealed significantly less PTB at less than 35 weeks in the TVU CL group compared with the no TVU CL group (P = 0.02).