Elevated risk of stillbirth in males: Systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 30 million births

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Abstract

Background: Stillbirth rates have changed little over the last decade, and a high proportion of cases are unexplained. This meta-analysis examined whether there are inequalities in stillbirth risks according to sex. Methods: A systematic review of the literature was conducted, and data were obtained on more than 30 million birth outcomes reported in observational studies. The pooled relative risk of stillbirth was estimated using random-effects models. Results: The crude mean rate (stillbirths/1,000 total births) was 6.23 for males and 5.74 for females. The pooled relative risk was 1.10 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.07-1.13). The attributable fraction in the whole population was 4.2% (95% CI: 3.70-4.63), and the attributable fraction among male fetuses was 7.8% (95% CI: 7.0-8.66). Study populations from countries with known sex-biased sex selection issues had anomalous stillbirth sex ratios and higher overall stillbirth risks than other countries, reflecting increased mortality among females. Conclusions: Risk of stillbirth in males is elevated by about 10%. The population-attributable risk is comparable to smoking and equates to approximately 100,000 stillbirths per year globally. The pattern is consistent across countries of varying incomes. Given current difficulties in reducing stillbirth rates, work to understand the causes of excess male risk is warranted. We recommend that stillbirths are routinely recorded by sex. This will also assist in exposing prenatal sex selection as elevated or equal risks of stillbirth in females would be readily apparent and could therefore be used to trigger investigation.

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Mondal, D., Galloway, T. S., Bailey, T. C., & Mathews, F. (2014). Elevated risk of stillbirth in males: Systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 30 million births. BMC Medicine, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-014-0220-4

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