For the first time, researchers can start to understand the long-term consequences of being born so early. Results are pouring out of cohort studies that have been tracking kids since birth, providing data on possible long-term outcomes; other studies are trialling ways to minimize the consequences for health.
These data can help parents make difficult decisions about whether to keep fighting for a baby’s survival. Although many extremely premature infants grow up to lead healthy lives, disability is still a major concern, particularly cognitive deficits and cerebral palsy.
Researchers are working on novel interventions to boost survival and reduce disability in extremely premature newborns. Several compounds aimed at improving lung, brain and eye function are in clinical trials, and researchers are exploring parent-support programmes, too.
Researchers are also investigating ways to help adults who were born extremely prematurely to cope with some of the long-term health impacts they might face: trialling exercise regimes to minimize the newly identified risk of cardiovascular disease, for example.
“Preterm birth should be thought of as a chronic condition that requires long-term follow-up,” says Casey Crump, a family physician and epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.