A University of Oregon study indicates that adult survivors of preterm birth may have a lung capacity similar to that of a healthy elderly person or a casual smoker.

The study, led by Andrew T. Lovering, a professor of human physiology, compared the lung function of adults born after fewer than 32 weeks to adults born full-term. It was published in the December issue of the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

The study found premature infants are at increased risk for contracting bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic respiratory condition mainly affecting infants born less than 28 weeks of age. BPD primarily affects preterm infants who receive oxygen therapy to help them breathe. The higher levels of oxygen, as well as the increased pressure from the ventilator used for treatment, can result in tissue scarring in their lungs in addition to other complications from an early birth.

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