Medical Complications of Prematurity
With each additional week of prematurity, a newborn is at greater risk for having medical complications. Infants who have reached their 32nd week of development before birth (32 weeks' Reference gestational age Opens New Window) are considered less vulnerable to complications than those who are born earlier. The most common complications of prematurity result from immature organs and an immature immune system and include:
- Reference Low blood pressure. This can require treatment with medicine, fluids, or Reference blood transfusion Opens New Window.
- Reference Low blood sugar. An infant's energy stores are kept up with more frequent feedings, sometimes including Reference intravenous Opens New Window sugar (glucose).
- Reference Anemia Opens New Window, which can lead to low oxygen in the blood. Mild anemia may not require treatment. More severe anemia is treated with blood transfusions or with a medicine (erythropoietin) that improves the body's ability to produce red blood cells.
- Reference Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) Opens New Window which makes breathing difficult. Treatment includes breathing assistance and artificial surfactant (immature lungs do not make surfactant on their own to keep air passageways from sticking shut).
- Reference Chronic lung disease Opens New Window, or lung damage, usually from ventilation. Oxygen therapy, medicine, and nutritional therapy help lung damage slowly heal over time. For more information, see the topic Chronic Lung Disease.
- Reference Necrotizing enterocolitis Opens New Window, infection and inflammation of intestinal lining. It can be mild or severe, leading to bowel blockage and tissue death, and can be life-threatening. The newborn is fed intravenously to allow time for the intestines to heal. Antibiotics are sometimes used to prevent or treat infection. Surgery is sometimes needed. For more information, see the topic Necrotizing Enterocolitis.
- Reference Patent ductus arteriosus Opens New Window, a blood vessel that allows blood to pump from the heart to the lungs. In full-term infants, this blood vessel closes around the time of birth. The more premature the infant, the more likely the ductus arteriosus is to remain open, which can cause complications. Treatment can include medicine or surgery. For more information, see the topic Congenital Heart Defects.
- Reference Retinopathy of prematurity Opens New Window (ROP), or poor retina development, which can lead to impaired eyesight. Infants with ROP or who are at risk for ROP need to be checked frequently by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).
- Reference Intraventricular hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain, which can result in Reference cerebral palsy Opens New Window or Reference intellectual disability Opens New Window. There is no known treatment. Very premature infants usually have an ultrasound during the first days after birth to look for signs of bleeding. For more information, see the topic Cerebral Palsy.
- Reference Inguinal hernia Opens New Window, the bulging of bowel through a weak abdominal wall. This usually needs surgical repair. For more information, see the topic Inguinal Hernia.
- Reference Jaundice Opens New Window, in which a baby builds up too much bilirubin in the blood. Sometimes babies with jaundice are put under a type of fluorescent light (phototherapy) as part of treatment.
- Infections, such as Reference group B strep Opens New Window or Reference sepsis, as well as ear and upper respiratory infections during early childhood.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: April 14, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Reference John Pope, MD - Pediatrics