CHICAGO — Odds have improved that many extremely premature U.S. infants will survive without major problems, although prospects remain poor for the smallest and youngest, born nearly four months too soon, a government-funded study found. The findings suggest that the age of viability barely budged over 20 years: In 1993, just 6 per cent of babies in the study born at 22 weeks survived long enough to leave the hospital, versus 9 per cent in 2012. Of 1,550 infants born at 22 weeks during the 20-year study just 99 survived until at least hospital discharge, and only 5 of them survived without major complications. The research highlights the importance of just a few more weeks in the womb: Among preemies born at 27 weeks, survival without major problems climbed from 29 per cent in 1993 to 47 per cent in 2012. Improvements are likely due to changes in medical practices, including more cesarean section births, which may be gentler for the most fragile infants, better infection control procedures, newer methods for helping preemies breathe without using ventilators, and giving women steroids before childbirth to boost lung growth, the researchers said. "Our findings are cautiously optimistic. Progress is being made," said Dr. Barbara Stoll, the lead author and head of pediatrics at Emory University's medical school in Atlanta. The study was published in Tuesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers reviewed hospital records from 1993 through 2012 for nearly 35,000 extremely premature babies born at 26 academic centres participating in a National Institutes of Health research network. It's a large number of infants, but the findings may not reflect outcomes at other types of hospitals.
Preemies: Then and Now