Outcomes of children of extremely low birthweight and gestational age in the 1990's

Early Hum Dev. 1999 Jan;53(3):193-218. doi: 10.1016/s0378-3782(98)00052-8.


Advances in perinatal care have improved the chances for survival of extremely low birthweight (< 800 g) and gestational age (< 26 weeks) infants. A review of the world literature and our own experience reveals that at 23 weeks gestation survival ranges from 2% to 35%. At 24 weeks gestation the range is 17% to 58%, and at 25 weeks gestation 35% to 85%. Differences in population descriptors, in the initiation and withdrawal of treatment and the duration of survival considered may account for the wide variations in the reported ranges of survival. Major neonatal morbidity increases with decreasing gestational age and birthweight. The rates of severe cerebral ultrasound abnormality range at 23 weeks gestation from 10% to 83%, at 24 weeks from 17% to 64% and at 25 weeks gestation from 10% to 22%. At 23 weeks gestation, chronic lung disease occurs in 57% to 70% of survivors, at 24 weeks in 33% to 89%, and at 25 weeks gestation in 16% to 71% of survivors. When compared to children born prior to the 1990's, the rates of neurodevelopmental disability have, in general, remained unchanged. Of 30 survivors reported at 23 weeks gestation nine (30%) are severely disabled. At 24 weeks gestation the rates of severe neurodevelopmental disability (including subnormal cognitive function, cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness) range from 17% to 45%, and at 25 weeks gestation 12% to 35% are similarly affected. In Cleveland, Ohio, we compared the outcomes of 114 children with birthweight 500-749 g born 1990-1992 to 112 infants born 1993-1995. Twenty month survival was similar (43% vs 38%). The use of antenatal and postnatal steroids increased (10% vs 54% and 43% vs 84%, respectively, P< 0.001), however the rates of chronic lung disease increased from 41% to 63% (P = 0.06). There was a significant increase in the rate of subnormal cognitive function at 20 months corrected age (20% vs 48%, P < 0.02) and a trend to an increase in the rate of cerebral palsy (10% vs 16%) and neurodevelopmental impairment. We conclude that, with current methods of care, the limits of viability have been reached. The continuing toll of major neonatal morbidity and neurodevelopmental handicap are of serious concern.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Gestational Age*
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Morbidity
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / therapeutic use
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • Survival Rate


  • Pulmonary Surfactants
  • Steroids