Premature babies face major health risks at birth, and often require months of intensive medical care.
The health risks don’t stop when they head home from the hospital. A new study finds that people born prematurely face a substantially increased risk of dying as young adults. For the most part, if they survive infancy, they make it through childhood and adolescence. But between the ages of 18 to 36, survivors of preterm birth are at a higher risk of death than their peers who were born at term.
What is going on there?
Basically, preemies are at risk for more health complications like heart disease, and they can develop major illnesses sooner than other people might. There’s no big cause for alarm though. While the risk of death was higher for those born prematurely compared to full term babies, it remained low overall. Amongst those born preterm, less than one in a thousand will die as a young adult.
The takeaway from this study shouldn’t be fear, the researchers say, but healthy caution. As TIME’s health blog puts it:
In practical terms, the findings suggest that former preemies should be followed more closely by their physicians. They should also take extra care to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eating well, exercising regularly and avoiding obesity and smoking.
If you’re the parent of a preemie, you probably already know to keep in close communication with your child’s doctor. This is just one more study confirming that your child has special health needs, even if she’s perfectly healthy right now.
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