According to a new meta-analysis study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from the Ottawa Hospital in Canada report an increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems in infants, and an extreme risk when associated with gestational age at birth. The youngest premature infants are in the highest risk group for neurodevelopmental issues.

Under the guidance of Dr. Gregory Moore, researchers pulled previous data and studies on the impact of prematurity on neurodevelopment. Included in the study were infants born between 22 weeks and 25 weeks gestation. Data showed a connection between prematurity and neurodevelopmental problems, but the risk lessened with increased gestational age. Infants born at 22 weeks gestation were 43% more likely to have problems with neurodevelopment. That number dropped dramatically in the 25 weeks gestation group to 31%. With each passing week between 22 weeks and 25 weeks gestation, researchers noted a drop in risk.

Neurodevelopmental problems associated with prematurity may include loss of vision, deafness, extremely reduced IQ and impaired mobility. Less severe complications may affect hearing, vision, IQ, and mobility, but to a lesser degree.

Neurodevelopmental problems are not the only health complications associated with premature delivery. Researchers have found a connection between prematurity and heart development that could increase the risk of heart disease in adulthood. Premature infants also tend to spend more time in the hospital before going home, leading to impaired social relationships. Learning disabilities and behavioral problems are also common in children born prematurely.

According to study authors, “Knowledge of these data, including the limitations, should facilitate discussion during the shared decision-making process about care plans for these infants, particularly in centers without their own data. More prospective, high-quality, complete cohorts are needed.”

Source: Gregory P. Moore, MD, FRCPC, Brigitte Lemyre, MD, FRCPC,  Nick Barrowman, Ph.D. Thierry Daboval, MD, FRCPC. Neurodevelopmental Outcomes at 4 to 8 Years of Children Born at 22 to 25 Weeks’ Gestational Age. JAMA Pediatr. Published online August 26, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2395.