Research suggests that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood.

Recently published research findings strongly suggest that preterm birth (prior to 37 weeks gestation) increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood. Furthermore, the risk of developing these conditions increases as the degree of prematurity increases.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH); Maastricht University Medical Centre and Maastricht University School of Public Health in the Netherlands; and The University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom reviewed and analyzed 30 studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders among 1.5 million children. These studies were conducted between 1995 and the present, a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity.

Across the studies, 13.7 percent of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders compared with 8.3 percent of babies born at term, representing a 70 percent increased risk. Children born very early (before 32 weeks gestation) had approximately three times the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders when compared with babies born at term.

“Worldwide, more than 11 percent of babies are born preterm,” says Dr. Aziz Sheikh, corresponding study author and Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice in the BWH Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care. “As asthma is a chronic condition, it is very important that we understand the reasons behind the association between preterm birth and asthma in order to develop strategies for prevention.”

This research was published in January 2014 in PLOS Medicine. If you have questions regarding preterm birth or asthma and wheezing disorders, please be sure to talk with your doctor.

– Jessica F.

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