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Causes and Risk Factors of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

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Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a serious complication of a baby being born prematurely and can lead to blindness if it is not treated correctly. ROP is a condition that is diagnosable and treatable in most cases, so when a doctor doesn't catch it early enough, it can really negatively impact a child's future. It is important to understand the causes of and risk factors related to ROP.

The most common risk factor for ROP is a baby being born prematurely. The eye develops at about 16-weeks of gestation, when the blood vessels of the retina begin to form at the optic nerve in the back of the eye. Those blood vessels continue to grow toward the edges of the developing retina while supplying oxygen and nutrients. The last 12-weeks of pregnancy are especially key because they eye begins to develop rapidly; when a baby is born full-term, the blood vessel growth is nearly complete. If a baby is born too early, the blood vessels have not reached the edges of the retina. When that happens, the cells of the immature avascular portion of the retina will produce a chemical signal that stimulates blood vessel growth, which frequently will result in fast growing fragile blood vessels that break and leak causing scar tissue that will attach to interior structures in the eyeball. The scar tissue will contract and pull some or all of the retina off the back of the eyeball causing vision impairment or blindness. 

Diagnosis of this condition is focused on identification of high risk neonates, surveillance at appropriate stages of gestational age and identifying when treatable disease is present. Treatment is focused on interrupting the production of the chemical stimulus for uncontrolled blood vessel growth using medication and/or laser ablation of the avascular tissue that produces the chemical stimulus. Timely and proper treatment results in normal vision in up to 98% of infants according to leading experts. 

According to the National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute, other risk factors aside from premature delivery include:

  • Anemia
  • Blood transfusions
  • Respiratory distress
  • Breathing difficulties
  • The infant's overall health

If your baby is born prematurely and the doctor does not mention anything about ROP, do not be afraid to speak up and ask that your baby be tested. If your baby was born with ROP and the doctor did not catch it or treat it correctly, you could receive compensation for damages related to your child's disease.

Girards Law Firm continues to seek justice for children harmed by failures of the medical system to timely diagnose and treat Retinopathy of Prematurity. Contact Girards Law today for a free consultation at 214.346.9529.

Category: Retinopathy/ROP


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