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Premature Babies Benefit From Nitric Oxide In First Hours of Birth - Some Babies With Low Birth Weight Have Improved Lung and Brain Function

July 26th 2006

Premature Babies Benefit From Nitric Oxide In First Hours of Birth - Some Babies With Low Birth Weight Have Improved Lung and Brain Function


New research shows that when nitric oxide is given to some premature babies within the first 48 hour of life the risk for brain and lung damage is lowered.  This is the first time a large study has shown a therapy can lower these risks, according to researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

The NIH Director, Elias A Zerhouni MD said “Medical science has dramatically improved our ability to help very small and premature babies survive. But as the rate of premature births continues to rise, it is even more critical that we develop ways to prevent many of the complications related to prematurity so that these children can lead healthy, robust lives."


The results form a combined randomized study of 1,400 very low birthweight premature infants demonstrated that when given within the first few weeks of life, inhaled nitric oxide helps prevent chronic lung disease in some low birthweight premature infants.

The therapy has the added benefit, if given within the first 48 hours of birth, of protecting some premature newborns from brain injury.  Because the lungs of premature babies are not fully developed they have trouble breathing on their own.  The standard treatment, according to the report, is oxygen and in some cases a ventilator is used to help them breathe and to protect other organs such as the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys from damage while the lungs have a chance to mature.


Some doctors began to notice that high levels of extra oxygen or prolonged use of ventilators can damage the lungs and interrupt normal development.  This can lead to a chronic lung disease known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).  This may lead to other conditions including ongoing lung problems such as pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the arteries that supply blood to the lungs), sensitivities to secondhand smoke, asthma, and respiratory infections. In extreme cases, it could lead to cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, impaired growth, and cardiovascular problems.

More than 10,000 babies develop BPD each year.  Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD said “The findings from these two large, multicenter trials should help us better identify which babies might benefit from inhaled nitric oxide. Successful and early treatment of breathing problems in these babies would represent a significant advance in improving the health and quality of life of a growing number of premature babies." Nabel, is the director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). 

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Marsha Quinn

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                   Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:46 PM