Predicting healthcare outcomes in prematurely born infants using cluster analysis
Victoria MacBean , Alan C. Lunt, Simon B. Drysdale, Muska Nadia Yarzi, Gerrard F. Rafferty and Anne Greenough
Published in the journal Pediatric Pulmonology, May 2018
Children born prematurely have higher risks of chest infections caused by viruses. This is associated with poorer respiratory health in infancy and later childhood.
This study is important because it is very difficult to predict respiratory diseases, as the chances of getting the disease, and the degree of severity, will vary substantially between prematurely born children. The large differences in risks to these children means that it’s very important to be able to predict their health. This allows parents and children to have more support, and also means that expensive preventative medicine is only used when necessary.
A group of 168 prematurely born infants were assessed, and had their birth weight, how long the pregnancy was, and how long they were helped to breathe after birth recorded. Throughout the first year after birth the parents reported any symptoms of chest infections (for example, shortness of breath). These same children had follow-up measurement at 5-7 years of age.
A technique called ‘cluster analysis’ analysed the data collected from the children. This is when groups of similar individuals are identified, who share certain characteristics. The outcomes of the different groups can then be assessed. Three distinct groups were detected in the group of 168 infants.
The first and largest group of children, who needed very little help with breathing immediately after birth, had very few chest infections before their first birthday, and didn’t have chest problems later in life.
The second, smaller group of children needed help with breathing for five or more days after birth and were more likely to have mild to moderate chest problems later in life.
The third and smallest group were born weighing less than 882 grams and required a lot of breathing support after birth. These children had the highest risk of developing chest infections and had a lot of health problems later in life (both related to their chest and other health conditions).
This study suggests that prematurely born infants fall into three distinct groups. Knowing which group the baby is in may be useful to clinicians advising parents on their baby’s possible outcomes after preterm births, and researchers with their studies.
This summary was produced by Miri Frankl, Year 12 student from JFS School, Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.