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Preemies' Increased Survival Comes With No Rise in Disabilities: Study

TUESDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Extremely premature infants are more likely to have mental and physical disabilities than full-term infants, but rates of such disabilities aren't rising, new research says.

The study included almost 500 children in Sweden who were born extremely premature (before 27 weeks of gestation) and assessed when they were 30 months old. The children, born between 2004 and 2007, were checked for disabilities such as cerebral palsy, impaired mental development, and vision and hearing problems.

Forty-two percent of extremely premature children had no disability (compared with 78 percent of full-term children), 31 percent had a mild disability, 16 percent had a moderate disability and 11 percent had a severe disability.

The more premature the birth, the more likely a child was to have a moderate or severe disability, according to the study, which was published in the May 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In recent decades, improved treatment and care has increased the likelihood that extremely premature infants will survive, and this has led to concerns that the cost of better survival rates may mean more children with disabilities.

"Improved survival did not translate into increasing disability rates, and we, like others, believe that the neurodevelopmental outcome for extremely preterm children born in the 2000s will be better than for those born in the 1990s," Dr. Fredrik Serenius, of Uppsala University, and colleagues said in a journal news release.

Even so, the risk of disability among extremely premature infants is high and shows the need for further improvements in care, including better infection control and improved nutrition, the researchers said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about premature babies.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, April 30, 2013

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