Enhanced identification of women at risk for preterm birth via quantitative ultrasound: a prospective cohort study

Barbara L. McFarlin, Michelle Villegas-Downs, Mehrdad Mohammadi, Aiguo Han, Douglas G. Simpson, William D. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Historically, clinicians have relied on medical risk factors and clinical symptoms for preterm birth risk assessment. In nulliparous women, clinicians may rely solely on reported symptoms to assess for the risk of preterm birth. The routine use of ultrasound during pregnancy offers the opportunity to incorporate quantitative ultrasound scanning of the cervix to potentially improve assessment of preterm birth risk. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to investigate the efficiency of quantitative ultrasound measurements at relatively early stages of pregnancy to enhance identification of women who might be at risk for spontaneous preterm birth. STUDY DESIGN: A prospective cohort study of pregnant women was conducted with volunteer participants receiving care from the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Participants received a standard clinical screening followed by 2 research screenings conducted at 20±2 and 24±2 weeks. Quantitative ultrasound scans were performed during research screenings by registered diagnostic medical sonographers using a standard cervical length approach. Quantitative ultrasound features were computed from calibrated raw radiofrequency backscattered signals. Full-term birth outcomes and spontaneous preterm birth outcomes were included in the analysis. Medically indicated preterm births were excluded from the analysis. Using data from each visit, logistic regression with Akaike information criterion feature selection was conducted to derive predictive models for each time frame based on historical clinical and quantitative ultrasound features. Model evaluations included a likelihood ratio test of quantitative ultrasound features, cross-validated receiver operating characteristic curve analysis, sensitivity, and specificity. RESULTS: On the basis of historical clinical features alone, the best predictive model had an estimated receiver operating characteristic area under the curve of 0.56±0.03. By the time frame of Visit 1, a predictive model using both historical clinical and quantitative ultrasound features provided a modest improvement in the area under the curve (0.63±0.03) relative to that of the predictive model using only historical clinical features. By the time frame of Visit 2, the predictive model using historical clinical and quantitative ultrasound features provided significant improvement (likelihood ratio test, P<.01), with an area under the curve of 0.69±0.03. CONCLUSION: Accurate identification of women at risk for spontaneous preterm birth solely through historical clinical features has been proven to be difficult. In this study, a history of preterm birth was the most significant historical clinical predictor of preterm birth risk, but the historical clinical predictive model performance was not statistically significantly better than the no-skill level. According to our study results, including quantitative ultrasound yields a statistically significant improvement in risk prediction as the pregnancy progresses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101250
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology MFM
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • attenuation
  • cervical microstructure
  • cervical remodeling
  • cervix
  • pregnancy
  • preterm birth
  • preterm birth prediction
  • preterm birth risk
  • quantitative ultrasound
  • receiver operating characteristic curve
  • ultrasound
  • ultrasound backscatter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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