One study focused on the most vulnerable subset of preemies: those
born at no more than 28 weeks gestation. More than half of these
infants went on to have moderate to severe cognitive deficits and
had academic test scores well below average.
The second study looked at babies born before 32 weeks gestation. By
the time they reached adolescence and adulthood, these individuals
were more likely than their peers born full term to think that
health problems lowered their quality of life.
“In terms of extremely preterm infants, there are multiple reasons
why we are seeing deficits and poor performance later,” said Dr.
Margaret Kern, a researcher at the University of Melbourne who
wasn’t involved in the studies.
“Biologically, there is a lot of key development that occurs across
the cycle, and when that is cut off very early it raises risk – like
an uncooked cake, there isn’t enough time for things to come
together fully,” Kern said by email.
Some of the same things that may have contributed to their early
arrival may also make it harder for preemies to get help in
overcoming developmental deficits, Kern added.
“There are a whole host of related issues involved, including less
knowledge and education by the mother and father, if involved in the
life at all, which often is not the case, and poor nutrition and
other health behaviors,” Kern said.
Soon after birth, premature infants often have difficulty breathing
and digesting food. Some preemies also encounter longer-term
challenges such as impaired vision, hearing, and cognitive skills as
well as social and behavioral problems.
The life-saving medical care these infants receive in neonatal
intensive care units can contribute to developmental deficits, said
Jill Zwicker, a pediatrics researcher at the University of British
Columbia who wasn’t involved in the studies.
“At this time of rapid brain development, these infants are exposed
to procedures for their medical care, such as heel pokes to draw
blood, tube insertions to help them breathe, medications etc.,”
Zwicker said by email. “Exposure to these invasive procedures is
associated with slower brain development and poorer cognitive
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Some drugs and procedures can prolong pregnancy to avoid early
arrivals or at least help preterm infants arrive closer to full
term, Robert Joseph, lead author of the study on academic outcomes,
said by email.
It’s possible that inflammation may increase the risk of
developmental problems, and scientists are working to understand how
these things are connected and develop treatments to address the
affects of inflammation after birth, Joseph added.
The studies published in Pediatrics were not designed to prove cause
and effect, however.
By adulthood, lower quality of life can be influenced by economic
and social factors, independent of whether people were preemies or
not, noted Dr. Dieter Wolke, a psychology researcher at the
University of Warwick in the U.K. and senior author of the paper on
teen and adult quality of life.
Sometimes, people think health issues diminish their quality of life
even when this isn’t the case, Wolke said by email.
SOURCES: http://bit.ly/1obfFMC and http://bit.ly/1pBDSga
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