Late subsequent ocular morbidity in retinopathy of prematurity patients, with emphasis on visual loss caused by insidious 'involutive' pathology: an observational series

Acta Ophthalmol. 2011 Jun;89(4):316-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-3768.2009.01707.x. Epub 2010 Jan 5.


Purpose: This paper discusses late complications in eyes of surviving premature infants typically occurring years into the steady state attained after the initial ophthalmic events associated with preterm birth. The study focuses on insidious visual loss, as well as eventual vitreoretinal and anterior segment disorders.

Methods: We carried out a retrospective uncontrolled study of a case series (n = 31) of late complications to early ocular changes associated with very preterm delivery. The birth years of our subjects extended back to 1941, but only 15 more recent cases fulfilled contemporary criteria for a diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Results: Fourteen cases involved vitreoretinal pathology (median observation time 14 years, range 6-46 years) with late detachment and/or vitreous haemorrhage. Twelve cases primarily involved anterior segment pathology (median observation time 37 years, range 7-58 years). Eyes in the latter category often showed features of early arrested growth and anterior traction, which, in four eyes, eventually led to enucleation or exenteration as a result of a blind and painful terminal state. The last five cases (observation periods 22-38 years) were labelled 'miscellaneous'. Among the 31 patients, we identified a subgroup in which insidious visual loss was a common feature (n = 20). Initially, some of these cases showed evidence of cicatricial ROP and low vision from early in life. Others retained useful vision and did not present obvious ocular incidents related to the actual visual acuity decline.

Conclusions: Based on a variety of clinical ophthalmic preterm appearances, we propose the hypothesis that, in addition to increased structural vulnerability, a reduced functional reserve may pave the way for further abiotrophy or involution over time. This may manifest as reduced resistance to later ophthalmic events, such as disease or trauma, or simply the impact of age.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Electroretinography
  • Female
  • Fluorescein Angiography
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Retinal Detachment / diagnostic imaging
  • Retinal Detachment / epidemiology*
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / diagnosis
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography
  • Vision, Low / epidemiology*
  • Visual Acuity
  • Vitreous Hemorrhage / diagnosis
  • Vitreous Hemorrhage / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult