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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1991 Feb;164(2):467-71.

Epidemiologic characteristics of preterm delivery: etiologic heterogeneity.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599-7400.


Preterm delivery (less than 37 weeks completed gestation) is known to result from diverse etiologic pathways, which can be grouped into idiopathic preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of the membranes, and medical complications. Data from publications providing sufficient detail to subdivide preterm delivery cases into these groups were tabulated. In spite of inconsistent terminology and incomplete reporting, patterns were identified. Black women have a markedly higher risk of preterm delivery, which is especially pronounced for preterm premature rupture of the membranes. Idiopathic preterm labor is predominant in lower-risk, white populations. These observations encourage consideration of subcategories of preterm delivery in studies of etiology and prevention.

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