Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is abnormal development of the lungs in infants. It is considered a chronic lung disease. BPD can make it difficult for the infant to breathe. The condition usually develops in the first 4 weeks after birth.
Infant Airway and Lungs
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The exact cause of BPD is unknown. It is most often associated with complication of early lung disease or their treatments. These conditions or treatments can cause irritation and swelling of lungs and airways. This can lead to BPD.
Factors that increase your infant’s risk of developing BPD include:
Any severe illness requiring oxygen therapy and/or the use of a ventilator for an extended timeRespiratory distress syndrome
(RDS)—a lung disorder often affecting premature babies that causes difficulty with breathing
Collapsed lungPremature birthImmature lungsHigh blood pressureCongenital heart diseases that cause excess blood flow through the lungs such as patent ductus arteriosusTracheomalaciaSubglottic stenosisInfectionsPneumonia
Symptoms may include: Rapid, shallow breathingDifficulty breathingRetractions—with each breath, the chest appears to sink in between the ribs or under the ribcageCoughSee-saw breathing–movement of the chest and stomach in opposite directions with each breathWheezing or noisy breathingRaising or stretching the neck to push more air into the lungsPoor posture of the trunk, shoulders, and neckBluish color to the skin
Your infant’s medical history will be taken. A physical exam will be done.
Your infant’s bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Your infant’s lung function may be tested. This can be done with pulse oximetry monitoring.
Images may be taken of your infants bodily structures. This can be done with: Chest x-rayChest CT scan
There is no specific treatment for BPD. The main focus is to treat any symptoms. If needed, treatment may include support for your infant's breathing. This will help the infant get strong and allow the lungs to mature.
Your infant will most likely be treated in a hospital. An extended hospital stay may be needed. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your infant. Treatment options include the following:
A breathing machine is used to move air in and out of lungs. It can support your infant's breathing until he or she is stronger and can breathe well enough without help.
Oxygen may be delivered through a mask or nasal tube. It may be done by itself or after the ventilator is no longer needed. This treatment could continue for weeks or months. Your infant may still need oxygen after coming home from the hospital.
Medication will be chosen based on your infant's needs. Medications may include:
Surfactants—may be given soon after birth to help the infant’s lungs expand the way they shouldAntibiotics—to control infectionsBronchodilators—to make it easier for air to get in and out of the lungsCorticosteroids—to reduce swelling and inflammation of the airways Note: Certain corticosteroids are not recommended in pre-term infants. Talk to your doctor about which medication is right for your child.Diuretics—to help remove extra fluid from the lungs
Lung problems can make feeding difficult. Nutrition therapy can help the infant get stronger and healthier. It may include:
An IV line that connects directly to a veinA feeding tube that is inserted into the stomachSpecial formula for bottlefeeding
Early intervention therapy may include several types of therapy. They will help improve your infant's development. It may include special exercises to improve muscle strength and clear mucus from the lungs.
There are no set guidelines for preventing BPD. However, there are some things you can do to decrease the risk of a premature birth and ensure you will give birth to a healthy infant such as:
Eat a healthful diet. Choose foods low in saturated fat and rich in low-fat dairy. Choose lean protein sources. Include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet.Have early and regular prenatal check-ups.Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Bancalari E, Claure N: Definitions and diagnostic criteria for bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
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Bronchopulmonary dysplasia. American Lung Association website. Available at:
http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/bronchopulmonary-dysplasia. Accessed September 15, 2015.
Short EJ, Kirchner HL, Asaad GR, et al. Developmental sequelae in preterm infants having a diagnosis of bronchopulmonary dysplasia: analysis using a severity-based classification system.
Arch Ped adolesc Med. 2007;16:1082-7.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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