The Long-Term Mental Health Consequences of Prematurity

The survival rates of preterm infants have improved dramatically in the past few decades, but the long-term mental health consequences of prematurity are still a cause for concern. Research has shown that premature babies may be more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression later in life. Being born prematurely is linked to a higher risk of developing a range of mental health problems, and this risk increases with advances in technology that allow more preterm infants to survive with seemingly good outcomes. Unfortunately, research on the long-term consequences of prematurity is limited; many of the population studies are based on Scandinavian birth and disease rates prior to the era of prenatal steroids and continuous positive airway therapy.

Suboptimal fetal growth and low Apgar scores do not seem to be related to an increased risk of developing mental illness in adulthood in premature infants. Medical care for premature babies often focuses exclusively on immediate survival and on monitoring problems in early childhood. Given that prematurity is common and there is strong evidence of long-term health consequences, a birth history should become a routine part of the patient's medical history. Internists and primary care professionals should be aware of their patients' birth histories and the possible long-term effects of prematurity.

Premature babies who have pulmonary vascular disease in the first week of life are more likely to develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia and pulmonary hypertension in the postpartum period. Currently, there are no guidelines for caring for adults who were born prematurely or with low birth weight. As fertility treatments become increasingly successful, multiple births, births to older mothers, and prematurity are an ongoing public health problem. It is important to recognize the potential long-term mental health consequences of prematurity so that appropriate interventions can be put in place.

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