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Ophthalmology. 2003 Aug;110(8):1639-45.

Visual impairment in children born prematurely from 1972 through 1989.

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  • 1The Finnish Register of Visual Impairment, Finnish National Agency for Welfare and Health, Helsinki, Finland.



To investigate the incidence and causes of visual impairment in children born prematurely in Finland from 1972 through 1989, and to determine what conditions and factors were associated with its occurrence.


Retrospective, cross-sectional study.


All visually impaired individuals from 0 to 17 years of age who had been born at fewer than 37 gestational weeks in Finland from 1972 through 1989 for whom records were available in the Finnish Register of Visual Impairment were eligible for this study.


Data in the Finnish Register of Visual Impairment relating to 556 children were supplemented with data from hospital records, and from the Register of Births, the Register of Congenital Malformations, the Finnish Care Register, and the Finnish Cancer Register. Data relating to causes associated with visual impairment in particular were collected. Data relating to the children born prematurely were compared with data relating to children born at full term. The chi-square test (Mantel-Haenszel), the Mann-Whitney U test, Fisher exact test, and stepwise logistic regression analysis were used in statistical analysis of the data.


Visual acuity, ophthalmologic diagnoses, associated systemic disease, multiple handicap, gestational age, birth weight, 5-minute Apgar scores, and prenatal, perinatal, and infantile or juvenile disorders or disease and treatment.


One hundred twenty-five of the 556 visually impaired children (23%; 11/100000 children less than 18 years of age) had been born preterm. Retinopathy of prematurity, optic atrophy, and cerebral amblyopia were the main diagnoses associated with visual impairment (in 46%, 28%, and 12% of cases, respectively). Sixty-six percent of those born prematurely with visual impairment were also affected by other handicaps (mental, motor, auditory), 54% by cerebral palsy and 36% by epilepsy. Eighty-eight of the 125 children (70%) born preterm with visual impairment were blind. Very low birth weight (<1500 g), young gestational age (fewer than 30 weeks), prenatal infection, hyperbilirubinemia, respiratory disorders, asphyxia, and lengthy mechanical ventilation were associated with an increased risk of visual impairment.


Premature birth was a major risk factor of severe visual impairment and blindness in childhood. The visual impairment often was accompanied by cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other motor and mental handicaps. Retinopathy of prematurity, optic atrophy, and cerebral amblyopia were the main diagnoses associated with visual impairment. During the 18 years covered by the study, the increasing incidence of survival of infants born weighing fewer than 1500 g was associated with increasing incidence of blindness.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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