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New Factors Found in Determining Survival Rate in Preemies


If you’re a female, you’ve probably had the experience of being “shown-up” by a male. Perhaps it was in your high school math class, or on the basketball court or running track. Since the beginning of time, it seems like men have been bigger, stronger, faster, and sometimes smarter. It would make sense, then, that they would bet better fit to survive in dire situations. Well, there might be one situation where the girls are now “showing up” the boys: premature birth. Let’s take a closer look at the recent research showing this phenomenon . . .

If you’re a female, you’ve probably had the experience of being “shown-up” by a male. Perhaps it was in your high school math class, or on the basketball court or running track. I know I’ve certainly had something like that happen to me! No matter how hard I studied, there was one boy who always got a better test score than me in Chemistry, and there was no way I was faster than any of the boys on the track team.

Blasted boys.

Anyway . . . since the beginning of time, it seems like men, boys, males – however you want to refer to them – have been bigger, stronger, faster, and sometimes smarter. It would make sense, then, that they would bet better fit to survive in dire situations.

Well, there might be one situation where the girls are now “showing up” the boys: premature birth.

New studies have shown that girl preemies have a better chance at survival than boy preemies. 

Let’s take a closer look at the information from these recent studies  . . .

What will the new findings mean?
Prior to this research, the number of weeks a baby remains in the womb was always the chief factor on survival chances, but now a new study shows other important information, such as including whether the infant is a girl and whether the baby gets lung-maturing steroids right before the birth.

These factors can be equivalent to an extra week of pregnancy.

Doctors and parents can better decide on what kind of care to provide to the tiny, delicate premature infants with this new information, says John Langer, a co-author of the study published the week of March 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

An extra 3.5 ounces or so of weight and being a single birth also was equivalent to an extra week of pregnancy.
"For the first time, parents and their doctors will have the best available information on which to base one of the most difficult and time-sensitive decisions they are ever likely to face," said Langer, who works in Maryland as a statistician for the North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute.

Details of the Study
The research focused on babies that were extremely premature, those that were born between 22 and 25 weeks in the womb.  A full term is about 40 weeks.

4,200 extremely premature infants born at hospitals throughout the country were included in this study.
These babies face some of the longest odds of survival and sadly, most have to be placed on breathing machines or need other help. These babies usually will weigh just about 1.5 pounds and are only about 10 or 11 inches long.  This is about the size of an adult’s hand.

Half of the babies died within two years after birth.  Approximately 12 percent survived, but had significant impairments such as blindness, deafness or cerebral palsy.  Also about 12 percent had even more severe physical or mental disabilities.

Parents usually have to be forced to make horrifying decisions on whether they are to take extreme measures to save the child that is possibly going to have a life of severe disability or to stop any treatment and allow the child to die. 

But now, an online tool has been developed by researchers for people to type in an infant’s birth weight, gender and other data.  This tool will predict the survival odds based on the study’s results and possibly make those decisions a bit less stressful.

The gestational age, which is the number of weeks from fertilization to birth, is connected to the chances of survival.  During the study, 95 percent of babies with a gestational age of 22 weeks died.  At 23 weeks, about three-quarters died.  At 24 weeks, less than half died and at 25 weeks about a quarter died.

Gestational age is not a perfect measurement as it is based on the mother’s memory of her last period.  Sometimes this may be a week or two off, which is a huge impact on determining survival predictions.

Researchers were surprised that other factors could equal an extra week in the womb.  And, they also found that girls were less likely to receive intensive care than boys with the same survival chance.  Studies also show that heavier babies tend to be given intensive care more often and boys are often heavier.

Hopefully with this new information, doctors and parents will have more and better options when dealing with a premature birth, regardless of gender or other contributing factors.



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