Premature Babies Face Impaired Lung Function in Adulthood

As early as age 20, individuals born prematurely may be living with lungs similar in function and capacity to the elderly, investigators from the University of Oregon reported.

As early as age 20, individuals born prematurely may be living with lungs similar to the elderly, investigators from the University of Oregon reported.

According to the study’s lead author, Andrew Lovering, associate professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, by early adulthood, those who were born early are exhibiting mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms.

For their study, the team assessed the lung function of adults born fewer than 32 weeks early and did (n = 20) or did not (n = 15) experience bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and compared it to adults that were carried to FUll term (n=20).

During exercise, the researchers found regardless of BPD that adults born prematurely were out of breath considerably faster than full-term adults.

“During exercise at 90% of peak V.o2 (V.o2peak), inspiratory reserve volume decreased to ∼0.5 L in all groups, but this occurred at significantly lower absolute workloads and V.e in ex-preterm subjects with and without BPD compared with full-term control subjects. At 50 to 90% of V.o2peak, exercise-induced expiratory flow limitation was significantly greater in ex-preterm subjects with BPD compared with ex-preterm subjects without BPD and control subjects,” the authors wrote in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society (ATS).

Lovering further explained that despite normal lung function, preterm adults with COPD are at risk of experiencing respiratory complications earlier in life. As a result, as lung function begins to decline, causing fatigue and poor exercise capacity and negatively affecting quality of life.

Since few physicians delve into neonatal development when treating patients, Lovering also claimed these individuals are likely to be misdiagnosed as asthmatic — meaning that the underlying cause of their impaired lung function isn’t explored.

“Additional research is needed to find better ways to serve adult survivors of preterm birth,” he commented. “We need to better understand how we can help them maximize their quality of life and lung health as they age.”