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Short-term complications of the preterm infant

George T Mandy, MD
Section Editor
Leonard E Weisman, MD
Deputy Editor
Melanie S Kim, MD


Prematurity is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 completed weeks (less than 259 days) of gestation. It is associated with about one-third of all infant deaths in the United States and accounts for approximately 45 percent of children with cerebral palsy, 35 percent of children with vision impairment, and 25 percent of children with cognitive or hearing impairment.

Complications of prematurity are the underlying reasons for the higher rate of infant mortality and morbidity in preterm infants compared with full-term infants. The risk of complications increases with increasing immaturity. Thus, infants who are extremely preterm (EPT), born at or before 25 weeks of gestation, have the highest mortality rate (about 50 percent) and if they survive, are at the greatest risk for severe impairment.

Complications of the preterm infant are divided into short-term complications (eg, respiratory and cardiovascular complications), which occur in the neonatal period, and long-term sequelae (eg, neurodevelopmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy) in patients who survive and are discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) [1]. Short-term complications increase the risk of long-term sequelae.

Short-term complications of prematurity will be reviewed here. The long-term complications and the long-term healthcare needs of preterm survivors are discussed separately. (See "Long-term complications of the preterm infant".)


Different degrees of prematurity are defined by gestational age (GA) or birth weight (BW).

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 08, 2016.
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