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Maternal age and fetal loss: population based register linkage study

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 24 June 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1708
  1. Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen, research fellow (any{at},
  2. Jan Wohlfahrt, statisticiana,
  3. Peter Christens, statisticiana,
  4. Jørn Olsen, professor of social medicineb,
  5. Mads Melbye, professor of epidemiologya
  1. a Department of Epidemiology Research, Danish Epidemiology Science Centre, Statens Serum Institut, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark
  2. b Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Danish Epidemiology Science Centre, University of Aarhus, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to: A-M Nybo Andersen
  • Accepted 25 April 2000


Objective: To estimate the association between maternal age and fetal death (spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth), taking into account a woman's reproductive history.

Design: Prospective register linkage study.

Subjects: All women with a reproductive outcome (live birth, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion leading to admission to hospital, induced abortion, ectopic pregnancy, or hydatidiform mole) in Denmark from 1978 to 1992; a total of 634 272 women and 1 221 546 pregnancy outcomes.

Main outcome measures: Age related risk of fetal loss, ectopic pregnancy, and stillbirth, and age related risk of spontaneous abortion stratified according to parity and previous spontaneous abortions.

Results: Overall, 13.5% of the pregnancies intended to be carried to term ended with fetal loss. At age 42 years, more than half of such pregnancies resulted in fetal loss. The risk of a spontaneous abortion was 8.9% in women aged 20–24 years and 74.7% in those aged 45 years or more. High maternal age was a significant risk factor for spontaneous abortion irrespective of the number of previous miscarriages, parity, or calendar period. The risk of an ectopic pregnancy and stillbirth also increased with increasing maternal age.

Conclusions: Fetal loss is high in women in their late 30s or older, irrespective of reproductive history. This should be taken into consideration in pregnancy planning and counselling.


  • Funding This work was supported by a grant from the Danish National Research Foundation and the Danish Medical Research Council.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Accepted 25 April 2000
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