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Healthy Preterm Infants Have Altered Lung Development

Healthy infants born prematurely have persistently low airflow as toddlers despite normal lung volumes

MONDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy premature infants exhibit decreased airway function throughout the first two years of life even though their lung volumes are normal, suggesting that premature birth may be associated with altered lung development, researchers report in the Dec. 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine.

Luciana Friedrich, M.D., of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and colleagues compared serial measures of lung function during the first two years of life of 26 healthy infants born between 30 and 34 weeks' gestation, and 24 healthy full-term infants serving as controls. Forced expiratory flow rates were obtained using the raised volume rapid thoracic compression technique.

Premature infants had persistently decreased forced expiratory flows compared to full-term infants in the first and second years of life. However, their forced vital capacities were normal. Both premature and full-term infants demonstrated similar increases in lung function occurring with growth, but no catch-up growth in airway function was observed in premature infants.

"These findings suggest that healthy infants born prematurely may have smaller sized airways relative to their lung volume," write the authors, hypothesizing that "the reduced forced expiratory flows in healthy preterm infants may be a factor that contributes to their increased risk of recurrent respiratory illnesses early in life."

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