July 22, 2008 Premature birth is associated with various life-long problems. Still, many premature children seem to function very well as adults according to a new large and comprehensive study from Norway.
Recent advances in perinatal care have increased the survival rates of premature babies. Follow-up studies to school age have shown an increase in learning difficulties, and behavioral and psychological problems. Knowledge on how these children manage a competitive adult society is, however, sparse.
A Norwegian study has followed 903 402 infants born between 1967 and 1983 till adulthood. The study included children with a gestational age of 23 weeks or more who were born without birth defects. Information on subsequent medical disabilities and social conditions were provided from several national registries.
The study demonstrated a strong association between preterm birth and medical disabilities like cerebral palsy, mental retardation and several other disorders. There was also strong association with likelihood of receiving disability pension.
“For those without medical disabilities, there was a weaker, but still significant association between preterm birth and level of education, income, need for social security benefits, the likelihood of establishing a family and having own children. There was, however, no association with unemployment or criminality,” says Dag Moster, the leading author of the study and Consultant Neonatal Pediatrician at the Pediatric Department, Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway.
“There was a striking dose response relationship between gestational age at birth and most of the outcome studied, especially for medical disabilities. It is, however, important to emphasize that most premature children who survived without medical disabilities completed higher education, had good jobs and appeared to function well as adults.”
Journal reference: The New England Journal of Medicine, 17 July, Volume 359:262-273
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