Tocolytic therapy for preterm delivery: systematic review and network meta-analysis

BMJ. 2012 Oct 9:345:e6226. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e6226.


Objective: To determine the most effective tocolytic agent at delaying delivery.

Design: Systematic review and network meta-analysis.

Data sources: Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Medline, Medline In-Process, Embase, and CINAHL up to 17 February 2012.

Study selection: Randomised controlled trials of tocolytic therapy in women at risk of preterm delivery.

Data extraction: At least two reviewers extracted data on study design, characteristics, number of participants, and outcomes reported (neonatal and maternal). A network meta-analysis was done using a random effects model with drug class effect. Two sensitivity analyses were carried out for the primary outcome; restricted to studies at low risk of bias and restricted to studies excluding women at high risk of preterm delivery (those with multiple gestation and ruptured membranes).

Results: Of the 3263 titles initially identified, 95 randomized controlled trials of tocolytic therapy were reviewed. Compared with placebo, the probability of delivery being delayed by 48 hours was highest with prostaglandin inhibitors (odds ratio 5.39, 95% credible interval 2.14 to 12.34) followed by magnesium sulfate (2.76, 1.58 to 4.94), calcium channel blockers (2.71, 1.17 to 5.91), beta mimetics (2.41, 1.27 to 4.55), and the oxytocin receptor blocker atosiban (2.02, 1.10 to 3.80). No class of tocolytic was significantly superior to placebo in reducing neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. Compared with placebo, side effects requiring a change of medication were significantly higher for beta mimetics (22.68, 7.51 to 73.67), magnesium sulfate (8.15, 2.47 to 27.70), and calcium channel blockers (3.80, 1.02 to 16.92). Prostaglandin inhibitors and calcium channel blockers were the tocolytics with the best probability of being ranked in the top three medication classes for the outcomes of 48 hour delay in delivery, respiratory distress syndrome, neonatal mortality, and maternal side effects (all cause).

Conclusions: Prostaglandin inhibitors and calcium channel blockers had the highest probability of delaying delivery and improving neonatal and maternal outcomes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnesium Sulfate / therapeutic use
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prostaglandin Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors
  • Tocolysis / methods*
  • Tocolytic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasotocin / analogs & derivatives
  • Vasotocin / therapeutic use


  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Prostaglandin Antagonists
  • Tocolytic Agents
  • atosiban
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Vasotocin