Etiology and risk factors for placenta previa: an overview and meta-analysis of observational studies

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2003 Mar;13(3):175-90. doi: 10.1080/jmf.


Objective: Several clinical and epidemiologic studies have reported disparate data on the prevalence rate as well as risk factors associated with placenta previa--a major cause of third-trimester bleeding. We performed a systematic literature review and identified 58 studies on placenta previa published between 1966 and 2000.

Study design: Each study was reviewed independently by the two authors and was scored (on the basis of established criteria) on method of diagnosis of placenta previa and on quality of study design. We extracted data on the prevalence rate of placenta previa, as well as associations with various risk factors from each study. A meta-analysis was then performed to determine the extent to which different risk factors predispose women to placenta previa.

Results: Our results showed that the overall prevalence rate of placenta previa was 4.0 per 1000 births, with the rate being higher among cohort studies (4.6 per 1000 births), USA-based studies (4.5 per 1000 births) and hospital-based studies (4.4 per 1000 births) than among case-control studies (3.5 per 1000 births), foreign-based studies (3.7 per 1000 births) and population-based studies (3.7 per 1000 births), respectively. Advancing maternal age, multiparity, previous Cesarean delivery and abortion, smoking and cocaine use during pregnancy, and male fetuses all conferred increased risk for placenta previa. Strong heterogeneity in the associations between risk factors and placenta previa were noted by study design, accuracy in the diagnosis of placenta previa and population-based versus hospital-based studies.

Conclusion: Future etiological studies on placenta previa must, at the very least, adjust for potentially confounding effects of maternal age, parity, prior Cesarean delivery and abortions.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Placenta Previa / epidemiology*
  • Placenta Previa / etiology*
  • Placenta Previa / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors