Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition caused by abnormal growth of the blood vessels in an infant's eye, is common in preemies, affecting more than two thirds of babies born under 2.6 pounds. Even with prevention efforts and treatment, ROP accounts for 3% to 11% of blindness in children. Despite the prevalence and seriousness of this visual problem, doctors can't always determine why some preemies develop it and others don't.
To understand more about the factors that contribute to ROP, researchers studied 63 identical and 137 fraternal twins born at or before 32 weeks of gestation. Because identical twins share 100% of the same genetic information and fraternal twins have at least 50% of the same genetic information, researchers could estimate how much genetic material contributes to the development of ROP. In addition, they noted all interventions the twins received at or after birth, including supplemental oxygen, ventilation, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
Twenty-two percent of the infants were diagnosed with ROP, and the condition was much more prevalent in smaller, lighter infants. The infant's gestational age before birth and the amount of time spent on supplemental oxygen predicted whether the baby would develop ROP. Based on analysis of the twins, researchers determined that there's a strong genetic predisposition for developing ROP.
What This Means to You
The results of this study indicate that genetic factors play a major role in the development of ROP in infants. If you're pregnant, be sure to get early and regular prenatal care for the benefit of your baby's health. If your baby was born with ROP, an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the eye) can advise you on any treatments or therapies your child may need. Often, laser treatment is used to reduce the abnormal blood vessels and prevent the retina from pulling away from the wall of the eye. The good news is that according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, treatment for ROP is very effective and drastically reduces the risk of visual impairment.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2006
Source: Matthew J. Bizzarro, MD; Naveed Hussain, MD; Baldvin Jonsson, MD; Rui Feng, PhD; Laura R. Ment, MD; Jeffrey R. Gruen, MD; Heping Zhang, PhD; Vineet Bhandari, MD, DM; Pediatrics, November 2006.