Study Reveals Factors That Influence Premature Infant Survival and Disability
Researchers have identified several factors that influence a premature infant's chances for survival and disability.
Akinso: Researchers have identified several factors that influence a premature infant's chances for survival and disability. In the study, which was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, over 4,000 infants were observed by researchers. Dr. Rosemary Higgins Program Officer, at the NICHD Neonatal Research Network, discusses the survival and disability possibilities in low weight infants.
Higgins: This is a study that looked at the most fragile of all premature babies, those who were born between 22 and 25 weeks of pregnancy. At birth these babies usually weigh less than a 1,000 grams or approximately 2.2 pounds. Caring for these babies in the neonatal intensive care unit is very difficult. Many will die unfortunately no matter what we do for them. Some will survive without any ill effects. And the remainder in a vast grey area, they survive with some degree of disability.
Akinso: According to Dr. Higgins that disability could be life long, and could range from minor hearing loss to blindness, to cerebral palsy, to profound intellectual disability. Researchers found that physicians and family members may be reluctant to expose an infant to painful life support procedures if the infant is unlikely to survive. In deciding the kind of care to provide, specialists at intensive care facilities traditionally have relied heavily on an infant's gestational age which is the week of pregnancy a premature infant is born. Dr. Higgins lists the factors that play a role in the survival and risk of disability in low birth weight infants.
Higgins: We found that 27 percent of these babies will survive without any ill effects on the brain or nervous system. We also found that certain other factors combined with the gestational age provided incite in how they might fair. And these factors included being female, being from a single birth rather than a multiple birth, having a higher birth weight, and if the baby's mom receive steroids prior to the baby being born.
Akinso: Dr. Higgins says the findings offer new information to physicians and families considering the most appropriate treatment options for this category of infants.
Higgins: This information is offered as evidence to help physicians and parents make very difficult decisions. This is the largest source of information on survival of extremely low birth weight infants. And it is available on the web form. The web form can be used as a reference for outcome data for a certain set of circumstances in providing information to families. However every baby is an individual and deciding what kind of care to provide is best done by the family and the health care team. There's really no substitute for good medical judgment here and all treatment decisions need to be made on a case by case basis. This web tool offers additional information to families and physicians who may be unfortunately in this situation of having to make a medical decisions.
Akinso: Physicians and parents may access the online tool by visiting www.nichd.nih.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Wally Akinso
Sound Bite: Dr. Rosemary Higgins
Topic: Premature Infants