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Looking at the effects, risk factors of preterm birth

Premature birth can be a scary for both parents and providers to deal with, not only because of the risk of short-term complications, but because of long-term risks associated with pre-term birth. Both short-term complications and long-term risks vary depending on specific factors, particularly how early the baby is born and the baby’s birth weight.


According to the Mayo Clinic, short-term complications can include breathing problems stemming from an immaturely developed respiratory system, heart problems such as low blood pressure and patent ductus arteriosis, which is a persistent opening between two important blood vessels in the heart. Brain hemorrhaging is also a risk, as are thermoregulation, gastrointestinal function, anemia and jaundice, metabolic problems, and weak immune system function.

Long-term risks associated with pre-term birth include cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, vision and hearing problems, and dental issues. Behavior and psychological challenges can also be among the long-term consequences of pre-term birth, as well as chronic health problems such as asthma and persistent infections. 

Because of these risks, physicians must be particularly aware of the risk factors associated with pre-term birth. In many cases, it isn’t easy to determine exactly what caused pre-term birth, but there are a variety of factors associated with it, including: multiple pregnancy; having a previous pre-term birth; in vitro fertilization; poor nutrition, cigarette use; failure to gain sufficient weight during pregnancy; infections in the amniotic fluid and genital tract; multiple miscarriages or abortions; and high blood pressure and diabetes. Another known risk factor is being an African American, though the reasons for this aren’t currently known.  

Simply knowing that there are risks of pre-term birth isn’t necessarily going to prevent its occurrence, but physicians are still responsible for acting according to accepted standards of care in this area.

In our next post we’ll continue exploring this issue.


Mayo Clinic, “Premature birth: risk factors” Accessed Dec. 4, 2015

Mayo Clinic, “Premature birth: complications” Accessed Dec. 4, 2015

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