Dr. Fredrik Serenius of Uppsala University in Sweden and colleagues conducted a study to assess neurological and developmental outcome in extremely preterm children -- those born at fewer than 27 gestational weeks -- when they reach the age of 2 1/2 years.
The study included extremely preterm infants born in Sweden from 2004-07. Of 707 live-born infants, 69 percent survived to 2 1/2 years. Ninety-four percent of the survivors were assessed and compared at a median age of 30.5 months with control infants who were born at term and matched by sex, ethnicity and municipality.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found 42 percent of the extreme preemies had no disability -- compared with 78 percent of control participants. Another 31 percent had mild disability, while 16 percent had moderate disability and 11 percent had severe disability. The disabilities included impaired mental development, cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness.
There was an increase in moderate or severe disabilities with decreasing gestational age. Also, the difference in overall outcome between preterm boys and girls was not statistically significant, the researchers said.
"Improved survival did not translate into increasing disability rates, and we like others believe that the neurodevelopmental outcome for extremely preterm children born in the 2000s will be better than for those born in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the impact of prematurity on neurodevelopmental outcome was large, which calls for further improvements in neonatal care, such as better control of infection and postnatal nutrition," the study authors wrote in their study.
"These results are relevant for clinicians counseling families facing extremely preterm birth."