Edema in Premature Babies

Welcoming a baby into the world is a time filled with joy, exhilaration as well as for lifestyle modifications.  But what if the expectant mother goes into preterm labor?

preemie-guidePremature labor can occur in any pregnant woman, regardless of their age or health conditions.  Going into labor earlier than expected is a frightening experience for a woman.  Infants born ahead of completing 37 weeks of gestational period are considered to be as preterm infants.  Again here there is a demarcation – early preterm and late preterm.

-       Early Premature Baby – infants born earlier than 26 weeks of gestation.

-       Late Premature Baby – infants born closer to 37 weeks of gestation, say…. like – born at 34 weeks.

Advances made in child care have enabled almost all premature infants to continue to live on.  However, during their lifetime, preemies will probably encounter more illnesses and developmental problems than full term babies do.

Edema in preemies is a condition that occurs when there is excess accumulation of fluid in the baby’s tissues causing extreme swelling.  This is a rather common condition in preemies because of their underdeveloped multi organ systems.

The fluid build-up may be visible all around the baby’s body or concentrate in a specific organ tissue, which is often the cause for severe health complications in a preemie.  As is, premature infants have higher water level content than full term babies, and administration of excess fluids intravenously often leads to edematous conditions in a preemie.

Causes of Edema in Premature Babies

-       Swelling or edema in a preemie can occur from a poor circulatory system, which is often the cause since premature babies are slow in forming red blood cells.  Preemies generally suffer from poor blood circulation.  They are incapable of circulating their blood well throughout the body because of slow blood formation, which is the reason why blood transfusions become necessary for them.  Since there is inadequate blood flow around most body organs, including their lymphatic glands, this will result in edema.  (The lymph glands secrete a pale colored fluid that bathes the body tissues after which it gets discharged into the circulating blood.  Hence, inadequate blood circulation will lead to build up of this fluid and cause swelling.)

-       Preemies will generally have an immature respiratory system at the time of birth, making them more susceptible to developing lung infections and distresses.  Chronic lung disease may contribute to fluid build-up in their lungs causing pulmonary edema.

-       Low sodium levels in a preemie can lead to swelling of their brain tissues.  Preemies that are left dehydrated, either due to poor fluid intake or by way of evaporation due to excess heat, usually face the problem of low sodium levels.  With the sodium levels in their blood remaining low, and the brain still continuing to maintain its sodium supply, this allows water from other parts of the body to flow into it, causing swelling of brain tissues.  If left undetected, the condition can worsen and cause seizures in the infant.

-       Hydrocephalus is another type of swelling occurring in the preemie’s brain.  In this condition, there is build-up of the cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain leading to rapid head growth in a preemie.  While in some infants the condition may resolve by itself, some may require surgical interventions, like insertion of a shunt to drain the fluid and reduce pressure within.

These conditions can be reduced and eliminated by employing proper therapeutic measures.