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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Survival Rate Seen Improving For Extremely Preterm Infants

A mother and infant

Very early preterm infants are more likely to survive than in previous years and survivors are less likely to have neurological problems, according to an NIH research network analysis.

Very early preterm infants are more likely to survive than in previous years and the survivors are less likely to have neurological problems, according to an analysis of records from an NIH research network.

Researchers found that of the more than 4,000 infants born at 11 sites within the network from 2000 to 2011, survival rates increased from 30 percent to 36 percent. The proportion of survivors who did not have a neurological or developmental impairment increased from 16 percent to 20 percent. The authors theorize that these improvements are a result of advances in the care provided to expectant mothers and their newborns.

The study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our study provides important information for physicians and family members planning the care of these extremely fragile newborns,” said study author Dr. Rosemary Higgins, a program scientist at NICHD. The study was conducted by researchers in the NICHD-funded Neonatal Research Network.

Infants in the study were born between the 22nd and 24th week of pregnancy, far earlier than the 40 weeks generally expected for a pregnancy to reach term. Those born from 2008 to 2011 had the lowest death rate (64 percent). From 2004 to 2007, the death rate was 70 percent, unchanged from 2000 to 2003.

Higgins stressed that the results encompass trends for a large number of infants at multiple research sites, but they should not be used to predict the outcome for an individual child.

“Every individual is different, and no single source of information can precisely predict a baby’s chances of survival or disability,” she said. “But our study’s findings do provide important information that physicians and family members can consult to help determine treatment strategies.”

Providing care to infants born so early is often challenging. Physicians and family members can be reluctant to expose an infant to sometimes painful life-support procedures. Those offered active treatment may survive, but may have hearing loss, blindness, cerebral palsy and severe intellectual disability.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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