Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia

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Bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD, is a serious lung condition that affects mostly babies who:

  • Are born more than 10 weeks before their due dates
  • Weigh less than 2½ pounds, or 1,000 grams, at birth
  • Have breathing problems at birth
  • Need long-term breathing support and oxygen

Many of these babies are born with serious respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Their lungs haven't yet developed enough to make surfactant (sur-FAK-tant). Surfactant is a liquid that coats the inside of the lungs and keeps them open so that the baby can breathe in air once he or she is born.

As a result, these babies are usually put on oxygen and a breathing machine at birth—either a ventilator (also known as a respirator) or a nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) machine. This can prevent damage to their brains and other body organs from lack of oxygen. They also are given surfactant.

Most babies with RDS begin to get better within the next 2 to 4 weeks. But some get worse and need more oxygen and/or breathing assistance from a machine. These babies have developed BPD.

The lungs of the babies who are born with RDS and go on to develop BPD are less developed than those of babies with RDS who recover. They usually have fewer and larger alveoli, or air sacs, than other newborns. They also may have fewer tiny blood vessels in the alveoli. The blood vessels are needed to move oxygen from the alveoli into the bloodstream.

These babies also are more likely than other infants to have problems in other parts of their bodies that aren't yet fully developed. These include the heart, kidneys, brain, stomach, intestines, and eyes.

With new and better treatments now available, most babies with BPD get better over time, and many go on to live normal, active lives.

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