Apnea of prematurity

Alternative Names

Apnea – newborns; AOP; As and Bs; Blue spell – newborns; Dusky spell – newborns; Spell – newborns

Definition of Apnea of prematurity

Apnea is breathing that slows down or stops from any cause. Apnea of prematurity refers to short episodes of stopped breathing in babies who were born before they were due.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There are several reasons why newborns, especially premature babies, may have apnea, including:


Newborns, especially preemies, often have an irregular breathing pattern.

Signs and tests

Because most preterm and some sick full-term babies have some degree of apnea, these babies are hooked up to monitors in the hospital to watch their breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels. Apnea or a drop in heart rate can set off the alarms on these monitors.


How apnea is treated depends on the cause, how often the breathing stops, and the severity of spells. Babies who appear to be otherwise healthy and have few spells per day are simply watched. They can be gently stimulated during their occasional episodes.

Expectations (prognosis)

Apnea is common in premature babies. Most babies have normal outcomes. Although mild apnea is not thought to have long-term effects, most doctors feel that preventing multiple or severe episodes is better for the baby over the long-term.


Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pedatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 11/2/2009

Apnea monitor

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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