Premature Birth Late Complications
Once a preterm baby overcame all potential complications on the first weeks of life and begins to gain weight and grow apparently on a normal manner, there's still risk of late complications development.
Such complications are not obvious and won't manifest until later on life. Some of them are associated to preterm born itself while some others are consequence of therapeutic measures implemented to help the baby to survive during the first weeks.
On this regard it's very important a close follow up of preterm babies in order to identify any potential late complication associated to premature born and act accordingly.
Among the most common preterm born late complications there are:
1. Hearing Impairment
Preterm babies have twice the risk of hearing impairment when compared with normal gestational age births.
Most of these cases are sensory neural hearing impairment with different affectation grades, from mild hearing loss up to deafness.
Causes are not clear at all but there's a strong association between low gestational age as well low birth weight and hearing loss. Furthermore, the lowest gestational age and weight at birth, the higher risk of hearing loss.
So preterm babies need to be screened regularly to detect this problem and begin hearing stimulation as soon as possible if detected in order to explode hearing potential as most as possible.
2. Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
This is a potential blinding condition affecting the retina of preterm babies born between the 24 and 26 gestational week; and rarely seen on babies born beyond week 33.
As in hearing impairment, ROP has a wide presentation spectrum, from a mild presentation with no clinical significance up to total blindness.
Once again there's a strong association between gestational age and low birth weight and ROP, showing and inverse proportion; so while earlier the birth and lower the weight, higher the ROP incidence.
Additionally it has been found that preterm babies requiring oxygen therapy for longer periods are more prone to suffer ROP.
In order to identify ROP is necessary an early ophthalmologic evaluation and follow up to avoid irreversible blindness as much as possible.
3. Mental Retardation
Mental retardation and cerebral palsy affects up to 30% of extreme low weighted, preterm babies. Causes are not clear but it seems that central nervous system does not mature properly once outside the womb.
In addition, brain oxygen deprivation due to other medical conditions is an aggravating factor, so there's a big risk for preterm babies, especially those born before week 30 to suffer from mental retardation.
Moreover, many preterm babies (up to 50%) will have "invisible disabilities" as well retardation achieving cognitive and motor development.
Such impairments might be reduced communication skills, impaired fine motor skills and even social interactions problems.
On this regard, psychological follow up and support is mandatory in order to achieve the maximum neurologic potential on each preterm baby, regardless that apparently there's any issue with them on this matter.
It remains clear that overcoming initial complications is just the first challenge for these babies who will need to face and overcome different complications along most of their live stages.
So professional follow up as well parents' support will be mandatory to assure the best possible outcome for these children who begin to life their lives a little bit earlier than supposed.