How Edema Affects Premature Babies

Edema is common among children born prematurely

premature baby
rubberball/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Edema is bodily swelling caused by fluid leaving the bloodstream and traveling into the tissues. Edema is common in premature babies, whose urinary and circulatory systems are not fully developed. 

Preemies have a higher water content than full term babies and the regular routine of administering fluids in the NICU may contribute to edema. Because of their poorly developed immune system, preemies are not able to produce red blood cells causing their blood flow to be considerably low.

A lack of circulation around organs and lymphatic glands can also make it difficult for your preemie's body to remove excess fluid. Because of this, if your child is premature, they will generally need help expelling fluids.

Types and Symptoms of Edema

Edema may be mild, causing swelling in the feet or legs, or severe, causing such widespread swelling that the body’s organs are overwhelmed. Severe edema may be caused by other conditions which need to be treated in order to reduce the edema. Edema may settle near certain organs such as the lungs; heart; kidneys; or certain extremities such as the legs, feet, and ankles.

Medications may be given to help the baby pass urine, reducing the amount of fluid in the body.

Treating Edema

If your child was born premature, the NICU will most likely give them diuretics to help them release fluid. Lasix is a common treatment for swelling in preemies. These treatments are generally there to help your baby along as the underlying cause of their edema, will improve as they grow stronger and more self-sufficient.

Blood transfusions may also be given to help improve your child's blood flow.

if your child is a preemie, they will be kept on fluids to make sure they have adequate amounts of sodium. If dehydrated, preemies can have low sodium levels, which can cause their brain tissue to swell. Left undetected, swelling can worsen, causing your child to have seizures.

 Hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid, can also cause your child's brain to swell. 

The dosage and amount of time your baby's edema treatment will take depends heavily on their age, organ function, ability to breathe on their own, and blood circulation. The age and size of your baby will also be accounted for in their treatment plan. Treatment lasts as long as is required for your child's bodily functions. As your child becomes more familiar with what it takes to breathe on his or her own and their immune system builds up, treatment will no longer be necessary. 

Once You're Home

While some conditions can have long-term side effects, your baby can make a full recovery from edema once it is treated. There are no known long-term health effects related to having edema. If you suspect edema through the symptoms mentioned above along with difficulty breathing or tightness in your child's chest, call 911 immediately. It's very important to keep a watchful eye on your preemie.

Continue Reading