Tiny premature babies hit school-age problems

They are found to have emotional, cognitive delays

July 20, 2005|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Even when they escape devastating complications such as cerebral palsy and mental retardation, the tiniest of premature babies - those weighing 2 pounds or less at birth - often have significant "invisible" disabilities when they enter school, researchers reported this week.

Many of the children have cognitive or emotional delays and problems communicating, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although doctors are saving more tiny babies than ever before, medicine has not succeeded in improving the lives for many of the children.

The study is the first to follow a group of infants with extremely low birth weights from infancy to their school-age years. The children were born in the United States in the 1990s.

Revolutionary advances in caring for such babies were made in the 1990s, including surfactant therapy, which helps babies' lungs mature, and steroid therapy, which is designed to accelerate lung development and help prevent brain hemorrhages.

Many experts hoped that the therapies would also reduce the rate of disabilities or other long-term problems for the babies. That hasn't happened.

Instead, such disabilities and other types of impairment appear to be even more common in this group of premature infants than in others.

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