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Study: premature babies face serious health risk

Study: premature babies face serious health risk


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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingA new study shows how premature babies face serious health risks that they sometimes don't outgrow.

The study tracked more than one million babies born in Norway for decades.

The findings are troubling, especially when you consider preemies are born at twice the rate in America. Neonatologist Dr. Steve Schwarz says, "The pulmonary system hasn't fully developed, the central nervous system hasn't fully developed, and these are very, very fragile."

But now when it comes to preemies, researchers have discovered troubling new risks. In a study of more than a million Norwegian infants, those born preterm faced a significantly higher risk of dying throughout their childhood up to age 13. The risk was greatest for boys.

Dr. Geeta Swamy, a Duke University researcher, said, "The highest risk was in those born extremely preterm and by extremely preterm we define that as less than 28 weeks."

Not only that, but women born premature were less likely to reproduce, and when they did, they were more likely to have a preemie of their own. "It is very possible, or very plausible, that there is some genetic or biological phenomenon going on," said Swamy.

What's shocking is that for preemies, Norway is a best case scenario because the population is relatively homogeneous with universal access to health care and a well developed safety net.

For every 1,000 babies born in Norway, five are preterm. In the United States, the number jumps to nearly 13. That's more than double the rate of Norway, costing our society at least $26 billion a year.

In the United States, despite efforts to reduce preterm births, for the past two decades the rate has steadily continued to climb. Why is that? There seem to be two main factors. First, minorities are more likely to have preterm births. The reasons are complex and include: poverty, lack of health care and chronic environmental stress.

The second reason is couples and older women seeking infertility treatments. They are more likely to have multiple births, and these babies are more likely to be born preterm.

In fact, in just the past decade the number of twins, triplets and higher multiples has jumped 32 percent, and that's a function of fertility treatments. Again, multiple pregnancies often mean multiple preemies.

When it comes to range in prematurity, there is quite a range. It's important to keep in mind that lots of these children do beautifully with absolutely no trouble as they grow up.

For more information on the study, go to the related link.

E-mail: drkim@ksl.com

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