Introduction: Spontaneous preterm birth prior to 32 weeks' gestation accounts for 1% of all deliveries and is associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality. A total of 70% are associated with chorioamnionitis which increases the incidence of morbidity, but for which there is no noninvasive antenatal test. Fetal adrenal glands produce cortisol and dehydroepiandosterone-sulphate which upregulate prior to spontaneous preterm birth. Ultrasound suggests that adrenal volumes may increase prior to preterm birth, but studies are limited. This study aimed to: (i) demonstrate reproducibility of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) derived adrenal volumetry; (ii) derive normal ranges of total adrenal volumes, and adrenal: body volume for normal; (iii) compare with those who have spontaneous very preterm birth; and (iv) correlate with histopathological chorioamnionitis. Material and methods: Patients at high risk of preterm birth prior to 32 weeks were prospectively recruited, and included if they did deliver prior to 32 weeks; a control group who delivered an uncomplicated pregnancy at term was also recruited. T2 weighted images of the entire uterus were obtained, and a deformable slice-to-volume method was used to reconstruct the fetal abdomen. Adrenal and body volumes were obtained via manual segmentation, and adrenal: body volume ratios generated. Normal ranges were created using control data. Differences between groups were investigated accounting for the effect of gestation by use of regression analysis. Placental histopathology was reviewed for pregnancies delivering preterm. Results: A total of 56 controls and 26 cases were included in the analysis. Volumetry was consistent between observers. Adrenal volumes were not higher in the case group (p = 0.2); adrenal: body volume ratios were higher (p = 0.011), persisting in the presence of chorioamnionitis (p = 0.017). A cluster of three pairs of adrenal glands below the fifth centile were noted among the cases all of whom had a protracted period at risk of preterm birth prior to MRI. Conclusions: Adrenal: body volume ratios are significantly larger in fetuses who go on to deliver preterm than those delivering at term. Adrenal volumes were not significantly larger, we hypothesize that this could be due to an adrenal atrophy in fetuses with fulminating chorioamnionitis. A straightforward relationship of adrenal size being increased prior to preterm birth should not be assumed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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