• Vol. 32 No. 3, 346–353
  • 15 May 2003

Long-term Follow-up and Outcome of Extremely-low-birth-weight (ELBW) Infants



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Introduction: Modern day obstetric and neonatal care has dramatically increased the survival of the extremely-low-birth-weight (ELBW) neonates. As the limits of viability decrease, it is of paramount importance to have reliable data on long-term morbidity. Long-term follow-up of these high-risk survivors is thus becoming an integral part of neonatal intensive care units.

Methods: Detailed Medline search and review of leading journal articles were done to assess the current data on long-term outcome of ELBW infants.

Results: The developmental outcome of the ELBW infant is determined by a complex interaction of medical and environmental factors acting on a developmentally vulnerable premature brain. In early childhood, 13% to 37% of ELBW survivors have a significant delay in cognitive function while 7% to 17% have neurosensory impairment viz. cerebral palsy. Advances have been made in measuring functional outcome to assess the impact of ELBW births on long-term quality of life and skills for independent living. Measuring school age outcome is an important landmark in the longitudinal follow-up of ELBW infants and most reports show high rates of cognitive impairment as well as increased incidence of learning disability and school difficulties as well as behavioural problems. The ELBW adolescent and young adult continue to lag behind in academic achievement and cognitive score. However, more than half of the ELBW survivors function within the normal range of variability and their self-reported quality of life in adolescence continues to be comparable to that of their peers.

Conclusion: In managing ELBW infants, a holistic, systematic approach is needed to assess the degree and impact of impairment on their daily function and issues related to quality of life.

With the progressive improvement in the survival of premature neonates, including those born at the extreme edge of viability, there has been a great degree of interest focused on the functioning of these high-risk survivors and their outcome into childhood and recently up to adolescence and early adulthood. Prospective follow-up programmes have been established by neonatal centres either individually or as part of a regional, national or international network to report in a systematic manner, long-term medical, neurodevelopmental, behavioural and educational outcome.

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