Uterine fibroids and risk of preterm birth by clinical subtypes: a prospective cohort study

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2021 Aug 17;21(1):560. doi: 10.1186/s12884-021-03968-2.


Background: Fibroids are present in approximately one in ten pregnancies and are inconsistently linked with preterm birth. We sought to determine the association between fibroids and preterm birth in a prospective cohort with standardized research ultrasounds for characterizing fibroids in early pregnancy while accounting for the clinical paths that precede preterm birth.

Methods: Participants who were pregnant or planning a pregnancy were recruited from communities in three states between 2000 and 2012. Members of this prospective cohort had a research ultrasound in the first trimester to establish pregnancy dating and to record detailed information about the presence, size, number, and location of fibroids. Baseline information from time of enrollment and a detailed first trimester interview contributed key information about candidate confounders. Birth outcomes, including clinical classification of type of preterm birth (preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of membranes, and medically indicated preterm birth) were cross-validated from participant report, labor and delivery records, and birth certificate data.

Results: Among 4,622 women with singleton pregnancies, 475 had at least one fibroid (10.3%) and 352 pregnancies resulted in preterm birth (7.6%). Prevalence of fibroids was similar for women with preterm and term births (10.2% vs. 10.3%). Fibroids were not associated with increased risk of preterm birth after taking into account confounding (risk ratio adjusted for race/ethnicity and maternal age, 0.88; 95% confidence interval, 0.62-1.24) nor any clinical subtype of preterm birth. No fibroid characteristic or combination of characteristics was associated with risk.

Conclusions: If fibroids increase risk of preterm birth, the effect is substantially smaller than previous estimates. Given lack of effect in a large population of women from the general population, rather than higher risk academic tertiary populations previously most studied, we encourage a reconsideration of the clinical impression that presence of fibroids is a major risk factor for preterm birth.

Keywords: Leiomyoma; Premature Birth; Preterm Labor; Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes; Ultrasound; Uterine Fibroids.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leiomyoma / complications*
  • Leiomyoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Leiomyoma / epidemiology*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology*
  • Premature Birth / etiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Tennessee / epidemiology
  • Texas / epidemiology
  • Young Adult