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Early Nitric Oxide Treatment Can Help Low Birth Weight Preemies

er reported since comparable national data have been available, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Premature infants, or those born at fewer than 37 weeks of pregnancy, have under-developed lungs and are more likely to succumb to respiratory failure. Oxygen and a ventilator can help them breathe and protect their brains, hearts, livers and other organs as their lungs develop. However, high oxygen levels or the prolonged use of ventilators can damage babies’ lungs, impeding normal development and causing a chronic lung disease called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

In the United States, more than 10,000 babies a year develop BPD at an estimated $2.4 billion a year in associated health care costs. Premature babies with very low birth weights (under 3 pounds) are at high risk of developing BPD and other breathing problems even if they do not require a ventilator. Ongoing lung problems associated with the condition include pulmonary hypertension, asthma, increased sensitivity to secondhand smoke, and respiratory infections. BPD can also lead to learning disabilities, impaired growth, and cardiovascular problems. In addition, it can affect neurodevelopment, causing conditions such as .

The two most recent studies were conducted independently at 37 medical centers and involved nearly 1,400 premature infants weighing between 1 to 3 pounds and who needed a ventilator to help them breathe. The studies were supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD, said the current findings should help doctors better identify which babies might benefit from inhaled nitric oxide. “Successful and early treatment of breathing problems in these babies would represent a significant advance in improving the health and quality of life of a growing number of premature babies,” Nabel said.

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