Increased late preterm birth risk and altered uterine blood flow upon exposure to heat stress


BACKGROUND: Climate change, in particular the exposure to heat, impacts on human health and can trigger diseases. Pregnant people are considered a vulnerable group given the physiological changes during pregnancy and the potentially long-lasting consequences for the offspring. Evidence published to date on higher risk of pregnancy complications upon heat stress exposure are from geographical areas with high ambient temperatures. Studies from geographic regions with temperate climates are sparse; however, these areas are critical since individuals may be less equipped to adapt to heat stress. This study addresses a significant gap in knowledge due to the temperature increase documented globally.

METHODS: Birth data of singleton pregnancies (n = 42,905) from a tertiary care centre in Hamburg, Germany, between 1999 and 2021 were retrospectively obtained and matched with climate data from the warmer season (March to September) provided by the adjacent federal meteorological station of the German National Meteorological Service to calculate the relative risk of heat-associated preterm birth. Heat events were defined by ascending temperature percentiles in combination with humidity over exposure periods of up to 5 days. Further, ultrasound data documented in a longitudinal prospective pregnancy cohort study (n = 612) since 2012 were used to identify pathophysiological causes of heat-induced preterm birth.

FINDINGS: Both extreme heat and prolonged periods of heat exposure increased the relative risk of preterm birth (RR: 1.59; 95% CI: 1.01-2.43; p = 0.045; RR: 1.20; 95% CI: 1.02-1.40; p = 0.025). We identified a critical period of heat exposure during gestational ages 34-37 weeks that resulted in increased risk of late preterm birth (RR: 1.67; 95% CI: 1.14-1.43; p = 0.009). Pregnancies with a female fetus were more prone to heat stress-associated preterm birth. We found heat exposure was associated with altered vascular resistance within the uterine artery.

INTERPRETATION: Heat stress caused by high ambient temperatures increases the risk of preterm birth in a geographical region with temperate climate. Prenatal routine care should be revised in such regions to provide active surveillance for women at risk.

FUNDING: Found in acknowledgements.

Bibliographical data

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12.07.2023

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Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

PubMed 37355458