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Preterm Birth May Raise Child's Asthma Risk, Study Suggests

THURSDAY, March 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study may add asthma to the list of downsides of being born too early.

Children who were born prematurely appear to be at higher risk for asthma and wheezing disorders, according to a new review.

Researchers led by Dr. Aziz Sheikh, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, looked at 30 studies focused on links between preterm birth -- defined as less than 37 weeks' gestation -- and asthma or wheezing disorders among more than 1.5 million children.

Their analysis found that preterm babies were 70 percent more likely than full-term infants to develop asthma or wheezing disorders later in childhood. Overall, close to 14 percent of "preemie" babies went on to develop asthma during childhood, compared to 8.3 percent of babies born at term.

The risk was even higher for very preterm babies, defined as children born at less than 32 weeks' gestation. These infants were about three times more likely than full-term babies to develop asthma or wheezing disorders later on.

"Worldwide, more than 11 percent of babies are born preterm," Sheikh said in a hospital news release.

"As asthma is a chronic condition, our findings underscore the need to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma or wheezing disorders in order to develop preventive and therapeutic interventions," he said.

Although the study found an association between premature birth and later asthma, it could not prove cause and effect. The findings were published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about asthma.

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, March 7, 2014

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