Preemies may face higher death rates as adults

Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:49am EDT

A nurse takes care of a 2-month-old premature infant lying in an incubator at a hospital in Enshi, Hubei province, China May 4, 2010. REUTERS/China Daily

A nurse takes care of a 2-month-old premature infant lying in an incubator at a hospital in Enshi, Hubei province, China May 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/China Daily

Related Topics

(Reuters) - Health problems are common among premature babies, who are more likely to die than their full-term peers during the first few years of life -- and they may also face slightly increased death rates as young adults, a study said.

"This is an entirely new finding," said Casey Crump of Stanford University, whose findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Even people born just a couple of weeks early had an increased risk of mortality."

Previously, preemies were believed to go on to have normal death rates once they have survived their early years.

Crump, though, said the results, based on Swedish data, should not cause undue alarm.

"The absolute mortality was still less than one per 1,000 people per year, so it's very low," he added.

His team studied a group of nearly 675,000 Swedes born between 1973 and 1979.

They found that children born before 37 weeks of pregnancy were much more likely to die before age five than others. That link disappeared in late childhood and adolescence, but then re-emerged in early adulthood -- from 18 to 36 years.

The health problems linked to earlier death included heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

"It appears that some of these causes have a long period of development," Crump said.

Among young adults born at 22 to 27 weeks' gestation, the death rate was 0.94 per 1,000 people per year. For those born between weeks 37 and 42, considered full-term, the rate was 0.46 per 1,000.

According to Crump, between 12 and 13 percent of babies in the U.S. are now born preterm, and the rate of survival has risen fast over the past few decades.

"I think it's important to be aware of the potential for an increased risk of various health problems through the life course," he said.

"It will be important for survivors of preterm birth to get regular health checkups and screening, and to avoid smoking and obesity to offset those risks." SOURCE:

(Reporting from New York by Frederik Joelving at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (1)
KKC995 wrote:
This is a really interesting article, but I think since the research is based on 1973-1979 data, it may be misleading. I have a baby who was born last year at 25 weeks. While we were in the NICU, a few different doctors told us that the way that they used to treat preemies (back in the time frame referenced) was to try and get them to gain weight as rapidly as possible. That, of course, resulted in those babies having hypertension (i.e. heart problems), diabetes, and other health problems. However, the approach that NICU doctors take today in treating preemies has greatly changed in this area. They are now more concerned with trying to get preemies to grow on a curve vs. get them to gain as much weight as they can as quickly as possible. So, hopefully, that should also help lessen the mortality rate for preemies. Anyway – Just that I would mention that to help provide some more context.

Sep 21, 2011 10:09am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.