Prelabor Rupture of Membranes

Prelabor Rupture of Membranes

Motunrayo Mobolaji-Lawal

Karen J. Jubanyik



Prelabor rupture of membranes (PROM) is the spontaneous rupture of fetal membranes before the onset of labor at any gestational age. Formerly referred to as “premature rupture of membranes,” the new term was agreed upon by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and numerous other professional organizations under the reVITALize efforts to develop standardized data definitions in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Preterm prelabor rupture of membranes (PPROM) is the spontaneous rupture of fetal membranes before the onset of labor prior to 37 weeks’ gestation. When the duration of time between PROM and the onset of labor is greater than 24 hours, it is referred to as prolonged PROM. PROM at any gestational age is an important cause of maternal and perinatal morbidity and perinatal mortality. Thus, emergency medicine practitioners should be well versed in the early recognition and initial management of PROM and PPROM in order to improve maternal and perinatal outcomes.


In the United States, the incidence of PROM at term, preterm, and before viability is approximately 8% to 10%, 2% to 4%, and less than 1%, respectively.1,2 PPROM is the most common cause of preterm birth and is a significant cause of perinatal death. Approximately 18% to 20% of perinatal deaths are attributed to PPROM.2

Risk Factors

The strongest risk factor for the development of PPROM is a history of PPROM or preterm labor in a previous pregnancy; other risk factors are listed in Table 19.1.1,3,4,5 In addition, procedures such as cerclage and amniocentesis have been associated with PPROM.6 It should be noted that although these have been identified as risk factors that predispose patients to PPROM, most cases of PPROM occur without the presence of any identifiable risk factors.1

TABLE 19.1 Risk Factors Associated With PPROM*

Prior History of PPROM

Low Body Mass Index <19.8 kg/m2

Intra-amniotic infection

Poor nutrition, anemia

Placental abruption

Maternal illicit drug use, tobacco use

Short cervical length (25 mm)

Short interval (<12 mo) between pregnancies

Vaginal bleeding in second or third trimester

Oligohydramnios or polyhydramnios

Low socioeconomic status

Multiple gestation

Chronic maternal steroid use

Direct abdominal trauma

Uterine abnormalities (uterine septum)

Collagen vascular disorders (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus)

*PPROM, preterm prelabor rupture of membranes.

Data from American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Prelabor rupture of membranes: ACOG practice bulletin no. 188. Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131(1):e1-e14; Waters TP, Mercer B. Preterm PROM: prediction, prevention, principles. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2011;54(2):307-312; Verbruggen SW, Oyen ML, Phillips ATM, Nowlan NC. Function and failure of the fetal membrane: modelling the mechanics of the chorion and amnion. PLoS One. 2017;12(3):e0171588; and Waters TP, Mercer BM. The management of preterm premature rupture of the membranes near the limit of fetal viability. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009;201(3):230-240.*


The fetal membrane consists of an outer thick cellular membrane called the chorion and an inner thin collagenous membrane with high tensile strength called the amnion (Figure 19.1).4 The chorion acts as an immunologic barrier, whereas the amnion acts as a structural barrier.4 This bilayer structure surrounds the fetus and plays a crucial role in protecting and physiologically maintaining the fetus throughout the pregnancy.7 The pathogenesis of PROM at a molecular and cellular level is multifaceted. It is thought to occur as a result of an increase in local mediators (cytokines, prostaglandins, and protein hormones) and a decrease in amniotic collagen content and function.8 This ultimately results in decreased tensile strength of the fetal membrane.



Patients presenting with PROM typically report an abrupt gush of fluid from the vagina, slow constant leakage of fluid from the vagina, or a sensation of perineal wetness.9 A detailed but focused history should be obtained including gravidity and parity, estimated gestational age, presence of contractions, presence of vaginal bleeding, history of sexually transmitted diseases or vulvovaginitis, pregnancy course including any maternal or fetal complications, signs or symptoms of infection, and recent sexual intercourse.

Natural History of Pregnancies Complicated by Prelabor Rupture of Membranes

Latency period refers to the interval of time between the rupture of membranes and the onset of labor.11 The longer the latency period, the higher the risk of developing chorioamnionitis.12 Various factors affect the length of the latency period. The length of the latency period is inversely related to the gestational age at the time of rupture of membranes.11 In the absence of obstetric interventions, half of the patients who experience PROM at term will have spontaneous onset of labor within 12 hours and 95% will have onset of labor within 72 hours.2 Conversely, of the patients who experience PPROM, 50% will go into labor within 24 to 48 hours and 70% to 90% will go into labor within 7 days.2 The length of the latency period is also inversely related to the severity of oligohydramnios.2 In addition, the presence of excessive myometrial thinning (<12 mm), cervical dilatation greater than 1 cm on presentation, nulliparity, twin pregnancy, fetal growth restriction, intra-amniotic infection, placental abruption, and nonreassuring fetal heart tones are all independently associated with a shorter latency period.2,11,12

Dec 30, 2020 | Posted by in EMERGENCY MEDICINE | Comments Off on Prelabor Rupture of Membranes

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