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N Engl J Med. 1992 Jul 30;327(5):308-12.

Treatment of preterm labor with the beta-adrenergic agonist ritodrine.



Beta-adrenergic agonists are commonly used to arrest premature labor. Although treatment of preterm labor with these agents can delay delivery by 24 to 48 hours, the potential risks and benefits to the mother and infant before and after delivery have not been adequately assessed.


We randomly assigned 708 women with preterm labor at six hospitals to receive an intravenous infusion of either the beta-adrenergic agonist ritodrine (n = 352) or placebo (n = 356). Assignment was made with stratification according to four categories of gestational age (20 to 23 weeks, 24 to 27 weeks, 28 to 31 weeks, and 32 to 35 weeks). The primary objective was to assess the effect of ritodrine on perinatal mortality. Secondary objectives were the evaluation of the causes of perinatal death, the extent to which delivery was delayed with ritodrine, and the effects on birth weight, maternal morbidity, neonatal morbidity, and infant morbidity at 18 months of postnatal age, corrected for preterm delivery.


Among the 771 infants born to the women in the study (including 63 pairs of twins), there were 23 deaths (6.1 percent) in the ritodrine group and 25 deaths (6.4 percent) in the placebo group (event-rate difference, -0.3 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, -3.7 percent to 3.1 percent). There was no difference between the groups in the extent of delay of delivery, the incidence of delivery before 37 weeks' gestation, the proportion of babies weighing less than 2500 g, or measures of neonatal morbidity. Maternal morbidity (such as chest pain and cardiac arrhythmias) occurred more frequently but not exclusively in the ritodrine group. One infant born to a woman in the ritodrine group and five infants born to women in the placebo group had cerebral palsy (P = 0.09). There was a slight but not significant trend toward an improved score on the Bayley Psychomotor Development Index at 18 months of age among the infants of the ritodrine-treated women.


We found that the use of ritodrine in the treatment of preterm labor had no significant beneficial effect on perinatal mortality, the frequency of prolongation of pregnancy to term, or birth weight.

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