Large-scale problems in children born before 24 weeks of gestation
In a study of children born after a pregnancy of less than 24 weeks, almost all (96%) had one of the diagnoses studied. According to the study, conducted by the University of Gothenburg, neuropsychiatric and somatic diagnoses are prevalent as these extremely premature infants reach adulthood.
The results are now published in the scientific journal Acta Paediatrica. The study was based on data from national registers and hospital journals on almost all children born in Sweden in 2007-2018, before the 24th week of gestation, who survived after birth until what would have been term. (40 weeks).
In total, the study includes 399 children. At follow-up, they were aged 2 to 13 years.
More than half need a license
Among these children born before 24 weeks of pregnancy,
- 75% had neuropsychiatric disorders, such as some degree of developmental disorder (40%); Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD (30%); and autism (24%).
- 55% needed adjustment support.
- 88% had other medical diagnoses, such as asthma (63%) or postnatal growth retardation (39%).
- 17% had cerebral paresis.
Main support needs
The study shows the marked need for special support for the most immature children, born extremely premature, and highlights the need for long-term adaptation.
“These are the smallest babies born, who would not have survived without modern neonatal care,” says Professor Ann Hellström of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, the publication’s final author.
“Being born extremely premature has long term repercussions. Society as a whole needs to be sensitized to provide sufficient resources during adolescence and later in life, manage morbidity, structure aftercare programs and support people with disabilities .”
No more survivors
Over the past 20 years, the survival rate of extremely premature babies has risen sharply, especially among those born at 22 and 23 weeks of gestation. Thus, current health care can save the lives of children born more than four months too early. Improved survival has led to a better understanding of brain development in these children and how their cognition, motor skills, hearing and vision are affected.
This study is the first to provide a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of various diagnoses among the most immature extremely preterm infants, and the expected substantial impact on children’s lives, in a single national research dataset.
“Physicians and other healthcare professionals need to be aware of the many health and developmental issues that affect these children. Health services also need resources to identify their needs for treatment and long-term support at a early stage”, emphasizes Hellström.
The study was conducted as part of a nationwide collaboration between researchers focusing on neonates (neonatology) and eye-related medical conditions (ophthalmology). Corresponding author is Professor Ann Hellström of Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, while first author is neonatologist Eva Morsing of Lund University.
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Material provided by University of Gothenburg. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.