The outcome of extreme prematurity

Semin Perinatol. 2001 Oct;25(5):348-59. doi: 10.1053/sper.2001.27164.


Significant advances in perinatology and neonatology in the last decade have resulted in increased survival of extremely premature infants. Survival rates for infants born in tertiary perinatal and neonatal care centers in the United States in the 1990s increase with each week of gestational age from 22 through 26 weeks. Reported survival rates at 22 weeks range from 0% to 21% in the few reporting studies. Reported survival rates at 23 and 24 weeks range from 5% to 46% and from 40% to 59%, respectively. These may not be the maximum survival rates possible because at these gestational ages information is either insufficient to determine that obstetric and neonatal intensive care strategies to maximize neonatal survival were used or it is specified that such strategies were not used. Reported survival rates at 25 and 26 weeks range from 60% to 82% and from from 75% to 93%, respectively. The literature regarding the prevalence of major neurodevelopmental disabilities among extremely premature survivors in the last 25 years is heteogeneous, and the reported prevalances of major disability vary much more than do survival rates. However, the majority of extremely premature infants who survive will be free of major disability. Overall, approximately one fifth to one quarter of survivors have at least one major disability-impaired mental development, cerebral palsy, blindness, or deafness. Impaired mental development is the most prevalent disability (17%-21% [95% CI] of survivors affected), followed by cerebral palsy (12%-15% of survivors affected). Blindness and deafness are less common (5% to 8% and 3% to 5% of survivors affected, respectively). Approximately one half of disabled survivors have more than one major disability. Based on studies of infants less than 750 to 1,000 grams birth weight, it can be anticipated that approximately another half of all extremely premature survivors will have one or more subtle neurodevelopmental disabilities in the school and teenage years. There is little evidence to suggest that long-term neurodevelopmental outcome has changed from the late 1970s to the early 1990s or with increasing survival. Survival of individual extremely premature infants cannot be accurately predicted in the immediate perinatal period. Major disability cannot be accurately predicted for individual survivors during the course in the newborn intensive care unit.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / epidemiology
  • Cerebral Palsy / epidemiology
  • Deafness / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Rate
  • United States