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Health Team

Preemies Face Risks as They Grow Older

Posted March 25, 2008 6:36 p.m. EDT
Updated March 27, 2008 5:18 p.m. EDT

— When babies are born too soon, there is a higher risk for health complications. Many preemies grow up to be perfectly healthy, but Duke researchers found a number continue to have health problems.

Carla Ransom's baby, Alexandra, was born 7½ weeks early.

“She did have some problems with breathing and her heart rate – with what they call 'brady down' – and had to be on a caffeine drip for over a week,” Ransom said.

Duke researchers looked at how premature babies fare as they grow older. They learned some preemies face an increased risk of death into childhood compared with babies born full-term.

“Boys and girls born at the extreme premature range, which we consider 22 to 27 weeks, had a much higher chance of mortality, somewhere on the level of nine or 10 times higher,” said Dr. Geeta Swamy, with Duke University Medical Center.

Swamy and her colleagues analyzed data from about 60,000 premature births in Norway. They also compared men and women, who were born pre-term, on how many of them became parents.

“Men were less likely to reproduce if they were born prematurely as compared to women,” Swamy said.

The reason is not clear, but possibly health problems or diminished cognitive ability could make it difficult for survivors of pre-term birth to find a mate.

It is not the best outcome for some pre-term babies' futures, but Ransom wants to know so that Alexandra will get the medical help she may need as she grows.

“As a parent of a pre-term baby, the more information you have, the more comfortable you are,” Ransom said.

Duke researchers said more studies are needed to find ways to prevent premature births.

The preemie study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.