FRIDAY, Nov. 27, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Children born prematurely have a higher risk of hospitalization later on than those born at full term, a new study says.
Health problems are common in premature babies, though the risk falls as they grow up. But researchers said it has been unclear when the risk begins to drop or how it's affected by a child's gestational age at birth.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 1 million children born in England in 2005 and 2006. On average, they were followed until they were just over 9 years old.
During that time, the children had more than 1.3 million hospitalizations, including nearly 832,000 (63%) emergency admissions. Just over half of the children were hospitalized more than once.
There was a strong association between hospital admissions and children's gestational age at birth, according to findings published Nov. 25 in the BMJ.
During infancy, the hospitalization rate among extremely premature babies (less than 28 weeks of gestation) was about six times that of full-term babies (40 weeks).
At ages 7-10, the hospitalization rate among those who were extremely premature was about three times higher than among those born full-term.
Even kids born just a few weeks early had higher hospital admission rates, the study found.
The findings indicate that gestational age at birth "is a strong predictor of childhood illness, with those born extremely preterm being at the greatest risk of hospital admission throughout childhood," researchers led by Maria Quigley, from the University of Oxford, said in a journal news release.
While the risk of hospital admission associated with premature birth decreased over time, particularly after age 2, an increased risk remained up to age 10.
That was true even for children born at 38 and 39 weeks, researchers said. And even though their extra risk was relatively small, the large number of babies born worldwide at these gestational ages suggests they could be a significant burden on hospitals, the researchers said.
Infections were the main reason for excess hospital admissions at all ages, but particularly during infancy, the researchers found.
Respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders also accounted for a large proportion of admissions during the first two years of life.
The March of Dimes has more on premature babies.
SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Nov. 25, 2020