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Pediatrics. 2020 Feb;145(2). pii: e20192359. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-2359. Epub 2020 Jan 3.

Lung Function of Adults Born at Very Low Birth Weight.

Author information

Respiratory Physiology Laboratory and.
Christchurch Health and Development Study and.
Canterbury Respiratory Research Group, Christchurch Hospital, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand; and.
Department of Paediatrics, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand



Much remains unknown about the consequences of very low birth weight (VLBW) and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) on adult lungs. We hypothesized that VLBW adults would have impaired lung function compared with controls, and those with a history of BPD would have worse lung function than those without.


At age 26 to 30 years, 226 VLBW survivors of the New Zealand VLBW cohort and 100 term controls born in 1986 underwent lung function tests including spirometry, plethysmographic lung volumes, diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide, and single-breath nitrogen washout (SBN2).


An obstructive spirometry pattern was identified in 35% VLBW subjects versus 14% controls, with the majority showing mild obstruction. Compared with controls, VLBW survivors demonstrated significantly lower forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), FEV1/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio (FEV1/FVC), forced expiratory flow at 25% to 75% of FVC and higher residual volume (RV), RV/total lung capacity (TLC) ratio (RV/TLC), decreased diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide, and increased phase III slope for SBN2. The differences persisted after adjustment for sex and smoking status. Within the VLBW group, subjects with BPD showed significant reduction in FEV1, FEV1/FVC, and forced expiratory flow at 25% to 75% of FVC, and increase in RV, RV/TLC, and phase III slope for SBN2, versus subjects without. The differences remained after adjustment for confounders.


Adult VLBW survivors showed a higher incidence of airflow obstruction, gas trapping, reduced gas exchange, and increased ventilatory inhomogeneity versus controls. The findings suggest pulmonary effects due to VLBW persist into adulthood, and BPD is a further insult on small airway function.


Conflict of interest statement

POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

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