Breathing problems beset kids born very preterm

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children who were born much too early continue to have poor respiratory health when they reach school age, UK researchers have found.

Dr. Neil Marlow of Queen’s Medical Center, Nottingham and colleagues reached this conclusion after studying 283 infants born at 25 weeks gestation or less, according to a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Because their lungs are not properly developed, preterm babies often have breathing difficulties. In this study, 74 percent of the infants — those who developed a condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia — still needed supplemental oxygen at the estimated gestational age of 36 weeks, and a third of them were sent home with supplemental oxygen that continued for another 2-3 months.

At the ages of 2 and 6, the children with bronchopulmonary dysplasia were more likely to have respiratory symptoms and need medication than were the 26 percent of children without the condition.

However, even those children without bronchopulmonary dysplasia consistently showed poorer respiratory health compared to their classmates.

The good news is that over the course of the 6-year follow-up period, breathing difficulties, the need for medication, and hospital admissions declined in the very preterm children. Nonetheless, they continued to show significantly lower peak expiratory flow values than their classmates. Peak expiratory flow was lowest in those with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and the children discharged home with oxygen.

Given these and other persistent effects, the researchers conclude that it is “imperative to continue to study the longer term effects of neonatal lung disease through adolescence into adult life.”

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, December 2008.

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