Premature babies' low blood pressure puzzle explained

February 13, 2018, University of Aberdeen
Premature babies' low blood pressure puzzle explained
New information revealed by University of Aberdeen study could help inform treatment of premature babies. Credit: University of Aberdeen

Scientists have discovered crucial new information about how a foetus develops which could explain why very premature babies suffer low blood pressure and other health problems.

It is well-known that born before 32 weeks of pregnancy often suffer from dehydration, a drop in and even death in some cases.

The team found that even at 20 weeks of pregnancy babies in the womb do not yet create a vital hormone called aldosterone, which likely explains some of the risks facing premature babies.

The findings will help inform the understanding and treatment of premature babies.

The study by scientists from the universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow, British Columbia and Queen Mary University of London was funded mainly by the UK Medical Research Council and has been published in BMC Medicine.

Aldosterone is a hormone vital for controlling blood pressure and is created by the adrenal glands. If a baby does not have enough aldosterone then too much salt is lost in its urine—called 'salt wasting'. It is this salt wasting that can cause some of the severe problems seen in very premature babies with one in three experiencing the condition to some degree within their first week after birth.

This study showed that while a foetus's adrenal glands are active throughout the second trimester of pregnancy, they do not yet make aldosterone. As such, babies born before 32 weeks do not have fully functioning adrenal glands and so they are at risk of salt wasting.

"There are still many things we do not fully understand about how the foetus develops in the womb," explains Professor Paul Fowler, Director of the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. "This study helps shed new light on the development of this crucial and its potential impact on a prematurely born baby."

Zoe Johnston, a Ph.D. student at the University of Glasgow and first author of the project, adds: "This study identifies important information required for the detection and treatment of salt-wasting disorders in very premature babies. It is striking that the baby's kidneys can detect aldosterone and so rely on their mother's until their own are fully functional."

Dr. Stephen Meader, Programme Manager for Reproductive Health at the MRC, says: "Better understanding of why premature babies end up with certain lays the groundwork to finding solutions.

"When babies aren't carried to full term, it is a stressful experience for the entire family, and could come with lingering concerns. This research could play a role in helping the scientific community improve health outcomes for ."

Explore further: Entire set of rare quintuplets die in Kenya

More information: Zoe C. Johnston et al. The human fetal adrenal produces cortisol but no detectable aldosterone throughout the second trimester, BMC Medicine (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s12916-018-1009-7

Related Stories

Entire set of rare quintuplets die in Kenya

November 14, 2017
A Kenyan mother who gave birth to extremely rare naturally-conceived quintuplets has lost all five babies, according to a hospital in the south west of the country.

Study of premature babies has implications for future treatment

July 11, 2017
Research carried out by the University with doctors on the neonatal unit at the William Harvey Hospital and Brunel University have provided further insight into the biology of premature birth, with findings that may have ...

Higher doses of vitamin D may boost preemies' bone health

October 19, 2017
(HealthDay)—Higher doses of vitamin D can improve the bone health of premature babies, new research suggests.

Premature infants may get metabolic boost from mom's breast milk

September 14, 2017
The breast milk of mothers with premature babies has different amounts of microRNA than that of mothers with babies born at term, which may help premature babies catch up in growth and development, according to researchers.

'Hardwired' focus may explain eyesight problems for premature babies later in life

September 28, 2015
Babies born slightly earlier are more at risk of vision problems later in life due to subtle differences in their eye development, a new University of Reading study has found.

U.S. preemie birth rates rise two years in a row

November 1, 2017
(HealthDay)—After nearly a decade of decline, the preterm birth rate in the United States has risen for the second year in a row, the March of Dimes reports.

Recommended for you

Infants can use a few labeled examples to spark the acquisition of object categories

September 19, 2018
Even before infants begin to speak, hearing language promotes object categorization. Hearing the same label, "That's a dog!" applied to a diverse set of objects—a collie, a terrier, a pug—promotes infants' acquisition ...

3-D-printed tracheal splints used in groundbreaking pediatric surgery

September 19, 2018
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has performed Georgia's first-ever procedure to place 3-D-printed tracheal splints in a pediatric patient. A cross-functional team of Children's surgeons used three custom-made splints, which ...

New approach improves detection of diseases at birth

September 13, 2018
The combination of a new sequencing technique and machine learning can speed up the diagnosis of diseases in newborns and reduce false-positive results, Yale researchers and their collaborators report.

Study finds that kids are more likely to drink healthier beverages if adults speak the truth—subtly

September 12, 2018
What's the best way to persuade children to drink water instead of unhealthy, sugar-laced beverages? Do you:

Boys and girls share similar math abilities at young ages, study finds

September 10, 2018
There has been much speculation about whether lower female participation rates in STEM fields can be traced to an innate male superiority in math and science. But a new University of Chicago study wanted to test whether boys ...

New advice on kids' concussions calls for better tracking

September 4, 2018
New children's concussion guidelines from the U.S. government recommend against routine X-rays and blood tests for diagnosis and reassure parents that most kids' symptoms clear up within one to three months.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.