Uncertainty surrounds use of terbutaline to prevent preterm birth
Research Activities, November 2011
A new research report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) concludes that not enough evidence is available to determine whether terbutaline administered by a subcutaneous infusion pump can effectively and safely prevent repeat episodes of preterm labor. The report, produced by AHRQ's Effective Health Care Program, also concludes that the adverse effects of terbutaline pump therapy for mothers or their children, in both the short term and long term, are not fully understood. Terbutaline is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of asthmatic bronchospasm, but is sometimes used "off-label" for maintenance tocolysis—the prevention of uterine contractions to delay preterm labor. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration warned doctors and consumers about safety risks from long-term use of terbutaline.
This was based on reports from women who experienced serious side effects while using the drug, although not from formal research trials. AHRQ's review found some evidence suggesting that terbutaline pump therapy may prevent preterm labor, particularly for some populations, but the overall benefit on the neonate and the safety for mother and child is unclear. AHRQ's full report, Terbutaline Pump for the Prevention of Preterm Birth, includes research findings and identifies needs for future research. You can read and download the full review and other publications from AHRQ's Effective Health Care Program Web site.