Preterm babies might survive but unfortunately, will have to battle with one health issue or the other. These complications often happen in babies born earlier than 32 weeks. Here are some common medical complications your premature baby may have to deal with:
Some premature babies will experience this condition where they will stop breathing for about 16 seconds or even more. Sometimes, they also have a decreased heart rate whenever they have this breathing interruption. To get a baby to breathe again, the nurse on duty will have to run the sole of his feet before he comes alive. Apnea is one reason preemies are constantly monitored to prevent slipping away.
Pregnant women may have had anemia during pregnancy due to deficiencies in essential nutrients such as iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 but in premature babies, it's a little bit different. The body is designed in a way that the fetus stores up iron until the last trimester and after birth so that it can make enough red blood cells. With the spontaneous premature birth, the fetus is unable to store enough iron and iron deficiency always results in anemia.
Anemia in babies is curable with iron supplements, specific drugs and blood transfusion. If it is not treated early enough, it could worsen other medical complications the baby may experience.
Chronic lung disease.
Premature babies who have to depend on supplemental oxygen because their lungs did not fully develop in the womb are at more risk of having this medical condition. After birth, some babies suffer from what is called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and they are treated using oxygen, synthetic surfactant and other breathing mechanisms. When the case is severe, the treatment takes a while and babies who face long treatments are usually the ones that suffer from chronic lung disease. The lung disease may range from lung damage to scarring or fluid on the lung.
Intraventricular hemorrhage refers to bleeding in the brain which most preterm babies born earlier than 28 weeks face. The bleeding could either be mild or severe and can only be seen through ultrasound and it occurs during the first three days after birth.
Mild bleeding resolves itself or the doctor may prescribe drugs to reduce the fluids and the affected babies become healthy with little or no consequences, but when it is severe, it could lead to the expanding of the ventricle in the brain. This expansion can put pressure on the brain and cause abnormalities such as cerebral palsy. Sometimes, to prevent brain damage that may occur from this fluid build up, a tube is inserted into the brain to suck it out.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC).
Due to the reduced blood supply to the bowels, some premature babies may face a condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis, a dangerous intestinal problem which occurs when some parts of the intestines are damaged.
To make matters worse, the bacteria in the stomach can feast on the damaged intestines causing infections. Complications that arise from this damage include abdominal swelling, feeding and digestive difficulties, etc. Premature babies are treated through antibiotics and surgery aimed to take out the damaged parts of the intestine. While undergoing treatment, babies are fed through the veins until the bowel heals completely.
Infections such as sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia are some of the what premature babies have to go through due to their weak and developing immune system which is still unable to fight off bacteria and viral disease-causing organisms. These infections may have been transferred to them by their mother at birth, or they may have gotten it after birth during various treatments. Luckily, some of these infections are treated using antibiotics and antiviral drugs.
Bilirubin is a waste product which causes jaundice when it becomes excessive in the blood. In a normal system with fully developed liver, the liver is responsible for removing the bilirubin from the blood to prevent buildup, but since the liver of a premature baby is still underdeveloped, the bilirubin is left to pile up and this causes the yellowish color in the eyes and on the skin of premature babies. Unless severe, jaundice is quite harmless and can be treated with phototherapy using special lights or sometimes, with blood transfusion. Severe jaundice will cause brain damage.
Severe jaundice is a rare occurrence since blood tests which are always carried out on preemies can show when bilirubin levels are high.
Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).
Patent ductus arteriosus is a heart condition that happens when the ductus of the baby didn't close properly before birth. During pregnancy, the ductus arteriosus which is a large artery restricts blood from getting to the lungs to provide oxygen for the fetus since the fetus gets its supply of oxygen from the placenta.
The ductus is meant to close after birth so that the lungs can pick up from where the placenta stopped. When it doesn't close properly, heart failure may occur. Premature babies can get treatment through a drug designed to close the ductus. Sometimes, the babies will need to undergo surgery to close it properly.
Retinopathy of prematurity.
This condition happens in premature babies who were born earlier than 30 weeks. It happens when there is an abnormal growth of the blood vessels around the eye and this abnormality can lead to blindness. Most times, the growth resolves on its own and other times, an ophthalmologist will take it out with a laser or through freezing to prevent loss of vision.
Respiratory distress syndrome.
Respiratory distress syndrome is a general problem for premature babies born below 34 weeks. This breathing problem results from a lack of pulmonary surfactant. Pulmonary surfactant is a lipoprotein produced in the lungs which stabilizes and prevents the collapse of small air sacs in the lungs. Symptoms of RDS involves breathing difficulty and when the doctor notices this in the premature baby, he runs a blood test and lung X-ray to determine if truly the baby has the condition.
The general treatment for this syndrome is the use of synthetic surfactant replacement therapy and other breathing equipment such as oxygen, CCPA (continuous positive airway pressure) and mechanical breathing assistance. The CCPA helps the baby breathe by delivering air to its lungs. CCPA is used along with a respirator if the baby is too weak to breathe.
Specific medications can be used on the babies to improve their breathing. Although their lungs will get matured as time goes by, premature babies still develop asthma that is related to lung disease.