Premature babies have an
increased risk of retinal detachment later in life, according to a large new
Retinal detachment can lead
to vision loss and even blindness unless it is treated with surgery.
Researchers analysed data
from more than 3 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2008. Those
born at less than 37 weeks' gestation were divided into two groups: preemies
born between 1973 and 1986, and preemies born between 1987 and 2008.
In 1986, Sweden introduced
a national screening program for the eye condition known as "retinopathy
of prematurity". This condition causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in
the retina the back of the eye and can cause retinal detachment, according to
background information in a news release from the American Academy of
Compared with babies born
at full-term, people born extremely prematurely (less than 28 weeks of
gestation) between 1973 and 1986 had a 19-fold increased risk of retinal
detachment, while those born extremely prematurely between 1987 and 2008 had a nine
fold increased risk, the investigators found.
Meanwhile, those born very
prematurely (28 to 31 weeks of gestation) between 1973 and 1986 had a fourfold
increased risk and those born very prematurely between 1987 and 2008 had a
threefold greater risk than those born at term.
Moderately premature birth
(32 to 36 weeks of gestation) was not associated with an increased risk of
retinal detachment, according to the study in the November issue of the journal
"We may just be seeing
the tip of the iceberg of late [eye] complications after preterm birth,"
lead researcher Dr Anna-Karin Edstedt Bonamy, a paediatrician at Karolinska
Institute in Stockholm, said in an academy news release.
Need for eye care follow-up
"Not only does the
risk of retinal detachment increase with age, but there has also been an
increase in survival among people born prematurely since the 1970s. This
provides opportunities for future research to address if the increased risk
persists among those born prematurely as they age," she added.
The findings show the need
for eye care follow-up of children and adults who were born extremely or very
prematurely, the researchers said.
Although the study found a
higher risk for future retinal detachment in very premature infants, it did not
prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
With more than a half a
million premature babies born each year, the United States has the sixth
largest number of premature births worldwide, according to the news release.
The US National Eye
Institute has more about retinal detachment.