Annals of African Medicine

: 2007  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 12--16

Triplet gestation: Clinical outcome of 14 cases

AG Adesiyun, E Eseigbe 
 Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Paediatrics, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Shika, Zaria, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
A G Adesiyun
P. O. Box 204, Kaduna


Background / Objective : To determine maternal complications and fetal outcome of triplet gestations. Method : Retrospective study of pregnant women with triplet gestation managed in 10 years. Results : Fourteen women were managed with triplet gestation, of these, (71.4%) were booked for antenatal care and four (28.6%) were unbooked. The mean age of the women was 31.3 years. The age range was between twenty seven years and thirty nine years. The mean gestational age at diagnosis for the booked women was 18.6 weeks. Of the fourteen patients, ten (71.4%) had spontaneous conception, three (21.4%) followed ovulation induction and one (7.2%) resulted from invitro fertilization and embryo transfer. Two (14.3%) patients had cervical cerclage based on their past obstetric history and assessment of the cervix. Six (42.9%) patients were hospitalized and treated for preeclampsia 3 patients, spontaneous abortion 1 patient and cervical incompetence 2 patients. Eleven (78.6%) patients had preterm birth. The mean gestational age at delivery was 33.4 weeks. Of the thirteen deliveries, nine (69.2%) had caesarean section and four (30.8%) delivered per vaginam. A total of thirty nine babies were delivered, thirty four (87.2%) babies survived and five (12.8%) died. Perinatal mortality was 11.9% and the DQtake homeDQ baby rate was 81%. Conclusion : Antenatal care with initiation of specialized prenatal care and planned delivery in triplet gestation improves fetal outcome.

How to cite this article:
Adesiyun A G, Eseigbe E. Triplet gestation: Clinical outcome of 14 cases.Ann Afr Med 2007;6:12-16

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Adesiyun A G, Eseigbe E. Triplet gestation: Clinical outcome of 14 cases. Ann Afr Med [serial online] 2007 [cited 2022 Jul 7 ];6:12-16
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Triplet gestation is the commonest of the higher order multiple pregnancies, [1] and is associated with increased frequency of foeto-maternal complication. [2] The prevalence rate has been on the increase because of ovulation induction and other methods of assisted reproduction but the average gestational age at delivery has remained between 32 and 34 weeks. 3[3],[4],[5] Prematurity accounts for the high perinatal morbidity and mortality associated with triplet's gestations, despite the significant improvements in perinatal care and neonatal intensive care over the past decades. In order to improve the morbidity and mortality, multifoetal pregnancy reduction was introduced into obstetric practice with the aim of prolonging pregnancy by decreasing the number of fetuses in higher order multiple pregnancies. However its place in triplet gestation has been controversial in relation to outcome with conservative management. [1]

 Materials and Methods

We compiled data from medical records of fourteen women with triplet gestation that delivered between January 1996 and July 2005, to evaluate maternal complications and neonatal outcome. The term booked patients applies to those patients whose pregnancy were registered and managed in our hospital. At diagnosis of triplet gestation, patients were educated, emphasizing the peculiarity of their pregnancy and importance of bed rest.

The patients were also placed on prophylactic oral tocolysis with beta sympatomimetic agents, preferably salbutamol from twenty weeks of gestation. They were seen at 2– 3 weekly intervals and ultrasound scan was done at four to eight weekly intervals to monitor fetal growth and assess biophysical profile. Cervical incompetence, anaemia, glucose intolerance and pre-eclampsia were looked out for during the pregnancy. Serial haemoglobin level was done and anaemia was defined as haemoglobin level [2] The risk of pregnancy complications especially those relating to prematurity increases with three or more conceptuses. [6],[7] Perinatal outcome of multiple pregnancies has been found to be directly related to gestational age at birth and birth weight at delivery. [2] This has created debate with regards the best management protocol. All patients in this series had conservative management, which has been associated with good outcomes of triplets. [8] The place of multifoetal pregnancy reduction (MFPR) in triplet gestation is complex, while some authors reported improved pregnancy outcome with reduction of triplet to twins, [9],[10] others did not find substantial difference in the outcome when compared to conservative or expectant management.[1] MFPR is not practiced in our setting.

Good antenatal care has been found to be superior in reducing prematurity and adverse pregnancy outcome even in singleton pregnancy. [11] The importance of early booking in the antenatal clinic can not be over emphasized. It exposes the patient to some preventive measures shown to reduce preterm deliveries in multiple pregnancies. [12],[13] About two-third of the patients in this study booked for antenatal care. Early diagnosis of triplet pregnancy allows for the initiation of a pattern of measures to prevent preterm birth and prematurity.[14] The mean gestational age at diagnosis of triplet pregnancy in this study was 18.6 weeks. This is late compared to fifteen weeks reported by Pons. [14] Where available, early diagnosis also allows for discussion on MFPR with couples, because the recommended time for performing the procedure is between eleventh and thirteenth week of gestation. [1]

Prophylactic cervical cerclage was not offered to any of the patient in this series, the two patients that had cerclage insertion, had it based on clinical indication. There are divergent views on the place of prophylactic cerclage in triplet gestations with regards to the foetal outcome. Some authors found it beneficial, [12],[15] others found no benefit to its use. [14],[16],[17] However, Ramin [18] found ultrasonographic assessment of cervical length to be a useful adjuvant in the management of triplet gestation. Not only does cervical length assessment by ultrasound scan provide evidence of cervical competence or lack of it, it also provides a unique tool to monitor patients at risk of preterm delivery. The pattern of midtrimester abortion recorded in this study was not typical of the abortion process in cervical incompetence.

Prophylactic oral tocolytic agent with beta sympathomimetic agents was used in this series as supported by other authors. [13] Though the study by Newman[19] showed that its use is non-beneficial in triplet pregnancies. It might be beneficial to our patients considering their difficulty in adhering to bed rest, in order to contribute their own quota to the maintenance and sustenance of the family. Furthermore, we have no facility like a tocodianometer that the patient can use to monitor contractions at home by herself. Other authors have supported its use in triplet pregnancies. [20]

Preventive hospitalization as recommended by Skrablin and other authors [5],[21] was not offered to patients in this series. They all had outpatient care. Hospitalization was based on obstetric or medical complication. Outpatient strict bed rest was recommended to our patients, in line with the view of some authors that reported decrease in prematurity and perinatal morbidity in women who observed strict bed rest. [22],[23] how compliant the patients were in observing strict bed rest is difficult to judge.

The rate of preterm gestation for triplet varies between 75% and 100%, [14] which is similar to the rate from our series. In triplet pregnancy, early detection and prevention of preterm labor and premature rupture of membrane will help decrease the rate of preterm delivery. Monitoring of salivary estriol, cervical fetal fibronectin and serial ultrasonographic assessment of cervical length are potentials towards this direction of management[18],[24],[25] The mean gestational age at delivery in this study falls between 32 and 34 weeks as reported for triplets. [4],[5],[26]

The mode of delivery is controversial but on the balance it favours abdominal delivery. [20],[27] However, other studies did not find difference in outcomes of planned vaginal delivery when compared to abdominal delivery. [28],[29],[30] Three patients in this series had planned intrapartum ultrasound-aided vaginal delivery with positive results. Ultrasound was beneficial in monitoring the foetal heart rate(s) and foetal presentation(s) in the 1st and 2nd stages of labour.

From this study, booking status of the patents is an important determinant of perinatal mortality, due to complications arising from unplanned delivery. Although our range of perinatal mortality in the booked and unbooked patients falls between the quoted ranges of 0% to 21% in triplets, [31] supervision of pregnancy and planned delivery in the unbooked patients would have lowered the perinatal mortality.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) was the leading cause of fetal morbidity in this study, which was reported in other similar studies. [14],[17],[18] Many authors recommended the use of corticosteroids in the prevention of RDS. [5],[22] Though it was part of our management protocol, unbooked patients presenting in labour were not treated with corticosteroids.

In this series, serious maternal complications seem to occur infrequently. Glucose intolerance and gestational diabetes mellitus due to exaggerated anti-insulin environment in multiple pregnancy, was not recorded in this series. The perinatal outcome reported in this study could be better if all patients were booked. In triplet gestations managed conservatively, early booking for antenatal care and initiation of specialized prenatal programs with planned delivery, a better outcome could be achieved.


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