How Edema Affects Premature Babies

The Incidence and Causes of Edema in Babies Born Prematurely

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Definition (Pronunciation: uh-DEE-muh): Edema is swelling in the body caused by fluid leaving the bloodstream and traveling into the tissues. Edema may be mild, causing swelling in the feet or legs, or severe, causing such widespread swelling that the body’s organs are overwhelmed.

Edema and Preemies

Edema is common in premature babies, whose urinary and circulatory systems are not fully developed. Medications may be given to help the baby pass urine, reducing the amount of fluid in the body.

Severe edema may be caused by other conditions which need to be treated to reduce the edema. Edema may settle near certain organs such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys, or certain extremities such as the legs, feet, and ankles.

Causes of Edema in Preemies

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, they are not able to produce red blood cells and their blood flow is considerably low. These combine to create an extra layer of reasons as to why edema may occur. The lack of circulation around organs and lymphatic glands makes it hard for the body to remove excess fluid. So preemies generally need help expelling fluids.

Treatment for Edema in Preemies

Typically preemies are given diuretics that help them release fluid from the body. Lasix is a common treatment for swelling in preemies.

These treatments are generally there to help baby along as the underlying cause of their edema, which we mentioned above, will improve as baby grows stronger, and more self-sufficient day by day. Blood transfusions may also be administered to improve blood flow.

How Long Does Edema Affect Preemies?

The dosage and amount of time your baby is treated for edema depends heavily on your baby's age and abilities with regard to organ function, breathing on his own, and blood circulation.

The age and size of the baby is also taken into account when treating a baby for edema. Treatment lasts as long as it is required for your child's bodily functions. As the child becomes more familiar with what it takes to breathe on his or her own and their immune system is build up, treatment is no longer available.

After You're Home: Edema and Your Preemie

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

Examples: Because the baby's legs were so edematous, her ID band got too tight and had to be removed.

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