Be on the watch for rare but serious complications.


Rare & Serious Conditions

Premature babies are subject to suffering from a variety of conditions -- some more common or more serious than others. While the risks of some conditions are minimal, the parents of a preemie should be aware of their warning signs and potential dangers. Read on to learn about several rare -- but serious -- conditions to watch out for in your preemie, according to the University of Wisconsin Center for Perinatal Care.

Air Leak

What is air leak? In normal breathing, air travels down your windpipe into air sacs in your lungs. In premature infants with undeveloped lungs, these sacs are susceptible to rupture, allowing air to leak into areas including the chest wall, blood vessels, or the heart.

Is air leak dangerous? The symptoms and seriousness of air leak vary greatly, depending on the amount of air and where it's leaked. In mild instances, the problem should correct itself. In more serious instances, air leak can cause sudden and rapid deterioration. However, quick and proper treatment should eliminate any danger.

How is air leak treated? Some forms of air leak are easier to treat than others. A small air leak often needs no treatment. In moderate cases, doctors will use a ventilator to adjust the pattern of baby's breathing. Serious cases can be treated with a tube inserted into the chest, which uses suction to remove the air from where it's collecting.

Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia

What is bronchopulmonary dysplasia? BPD is a form of longer-term lung disease. It usually occurs as a result of the lungs' reaction to infection, oxygen, or mechanical ventilation at birth.

Is BPD dangerous? If left untreated, BPD can cause breathing problems and slowed growth. However, BPD is usually kept under control by continuous administration of oxygen.

How is BPD treated? A baby with BPD needs extra oxygen for a long period of time -- from several weeks to a year. Some babies with BPD are also treated with steroids, diuretics, or drugs to decrease wheezing.

Intraventricular Hemorrhage

What is intraventricular hemorrhage? IVH refers to bleeding into the normal fluid spaces within the brain. This occurs in preemies' underdeveloped brains as a result of the fragility of the network of tiny blood vessels, which are prone to bursting.

Is IVH dangerous? The problems that can result from intraventricular hemorrhage vary greatly, depending on the location and degree of bleeding. Most cases do not cause any identifiable brain injury. Severe bleeding, however, can lead to temporary or permanent brain injury.

How is IVH treated? At this time, there is no specific treatment for IVH. Surgery will not prevent or cure the bleeding. Only improved overall care and monitoring of premature babies have decreased the rate and risk of IVH.

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

What is necrotizing enterocolitis? NEC is an inflammation that destroys part of the bowel. Premature infants are susceptible to NEC due to their immature and fragile bowels, which are subject to changes in blood flow and to infection.

Is NEC dangerous? Babies can lose some of their bowel as a result of NEC. There have been some deaths as a result of NEC. For this reason, doctors may start treatment on simply the suspicion that your baby might be developing symptoms. Most babies who recover from NEC do not have further problems.

How is NEC treated? When NEC is suspected, doctors stop regular feedings and feed the baby intravenously. Some babies are put on antibiotics as well. A tube can be placed in baby's stomach -- through his mouth or nose -- which can remove all air and water from the intestines and decrease pressure.

Periventricular Leukomalacia

What is periventricular leukomalacia? PVL is softening of the brain near the ventricles. It's thought to be due to a lack of blood flow to that part of the brain.

Is PVL dangerous? Because PVL results from loss of brain tissue, babies with PVL are at risk for abnormal development later on. The more severe the PVL, the more likely a baby will develop mental or motor problems.

How is PVL treated? Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for PVL at this time.

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby