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' gestational age) 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:
Low blood pressure. This can require
treatment with medicine, fluids, or blood transfusion.
Low blood sugar. An infant's energy stores are kept up with more frequent
feedings, sometimes including
intravenous sugar (glucose).
Anemia, which is a shortage of red blood cells. It can deprive the body of needed oxygen.
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.
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), 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
Chronic lung disease. Damaged tissue in the newborn's lungs causes breathing and health problems. Oxygen therapy, medicine, and nutritional therapy can help the disease slowly heal over time. For more information, see the topic Chronic Lung
Necrotizing enterocolitis, which is infection
and inflammation of the 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
Patent ductus arteriosus, 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.
Retinopathy of prematurity (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
Inguinal hernia, the bulging of bowel
through a weak abdominal wall. This usually needs surgical repair. For more
information, see the topic Inguinal Hernia.
Jaundice, in which a baby builds up too much bilirubin in the blood. Sometimes babies with jaundice are put under a special light (phototherapy) as part of treatment.
Infections, such as group B strep or
sepsis, as well as ear and upper
respiratory infections during early childhood.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine John Pope, MD - Pediatrics Specialist Medical ReviewerJennifer Merchant, MD - Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
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