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Premature Birth Ups Risk of Long-Term Breathing Problems

Kids who were extreme preemies had double the risk of asthma by age 11, study found

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of babies born very prematurely -- at 25 weeks of pregnancy or earlier -- may experience lung problems, and they are twice as likely as children born at full-term to be diagnosed with asthma by the time they turn 11, a new study has found.

The study authors examined a database of all babies born at or before 25 weeks of gestation during several months of 1995 in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The researchers followed the children until they reached 11 years of age and compared them to randomly selected peers.

"For a variety of reasons, rates of preterm birth are increasing in developed countries," study principal investigator Janet Stocks, professor of respiratory physiology at the University College London's Institute of Child Health, said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.

"Despite sophisticated medical interventions, we know that preterm birth is often associated with serious respiratory problems. We wanted to look at the longer-term implications of the complications as these children grow up," Stocks explained.

Tests showed that many of the children suffered from airway obstruction. "These results indicate that despite improvements in obstetric and neonatal care that have resulted in increased survival of extremely preterm infants, airway obstruction remains a common long-term outcome," she noted.

"There needs to be long-term surveillance of this population, and appropriate treatment throughout childhood with a special emphasis on a healthy lifestyle with respect to diet, exercise and smoking prevention in order to preserve available lung function for as long as possible," Stocks said.

The findings were released online April 22 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

More information

For more about premature birth, visit the March of Dimes.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, April 22, 2010

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