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Effects of Premature Birth May Stretch Into Adulthood: Study
Date:6/24/2011

THURSDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that the adverse effects of pre-term birth can extend well into adulthood.

The latest findings, from a University of Rhode Island study that has followed more than 200 premature infants for 21 years, revealed that preemies grow up to be less healthy, struggle more socially and face a greater risk of heart problems compared to those born full-term.

One reason for this, explained study author Mary C. Sullivan, professor of nursing at the University of Rhode Island and adjunct professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, is that extremely low birth weight, repeated blood draws, surgery and breathing issues can affect stress levels among pre-term infants.

She pointed out these stressors produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is involved in the regulation of metabolism, immune response and vascular tone.

Among Sullivan's findings:

  • The less a preemie weighs at birth, the greater the risk. Sullivan found preemies born at extremely low birth weight had the poorest pulmonary outcomes and higher resting blood pressure.
  • Premature infants with medical and neurological problems had up to a 32 percent greater risk for acute and chronic health conditions vs. normal-weight newborns.
  • Pre-term infants with no medical conditions, particularly boys, struggled more academically. Sullivan found that preemies tended to have more learning disabilities, trouble with math and need more school services than kids who were full-term babies.
  • Some children born prematurely are less coordinated. This may be related to brain development and effects of neonatal intensive care, the researchers said.
  • Premature infants also tended to have fewer friends as they matured, the team found.

The outlook isn't entirely bleak for premature infants, however. Infants who are born too soon are often r
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