Babies who are born very prematurely or who have respiratory problems shortly after birth are at risk for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), sometimes called chronic lung disease. Although most infants fully recover with few long-term health problems, BPD can be serious and need intensive medical care.
Babies aren’t born with BPD. It develops when premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) need help to breathe for an extended period, which can lead to inflammation (swelling) and scarring in the lungs.
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (brahn-ko-PUL-moh-nair-ee dis-PLAY-zhee-uh) involves abnormal development of lung tissue. It most often affects premature babies, who are born with underdeveloped lungs.
“Dysplasia” means abnormal changes in the structure or organization of a group of cells. The cell changes in BPD take place in the smaller airways and lung alveoli, making breathing difficult and causing problems with lung function.
Along with asthma and cystic fibrosis, BPD is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), there are between 5,000 and 10,000 cases of BPD every year in the United States.
Babies with extremely low birth weight (less than 2.2 pounds or 1,000 grams) are most at risk for developing BPD. Although most of these infants eventually outgrow the more serious symptoms, in rare cases BPD — in combination with other complications of prematurity — can be fatal.