Osteopenia – premature infants

Alternative Names

Neonatal rickets; Brittle bones – premature infants; Weak bones – premature infants; Osteopenia of prematurity

Definition of Osteopenia – premature infants

Osteopenia is a decrease in the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the bone. This can cause bones to be weak and brittle, and increases the risk for broken bones.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

During the last 3 months of pregnancy, large amounts of calcium and phosphorus are transferred from the mother to the baby so that the baby’s bones will grow.

Symptoms

Most premature infants born before 30 weeks have some degree of osteopenia, but will not have any physical symptoms.

Signs and tests

Osteopenia is more difficult to diagnose in premature infants than in adults. The most common tests used to diagnose and monitor osteopenia of prematurity include:

Treatment

Therapies that appear to improve bone strength in infants include:

Expectations (prognosis)

Fractures will usually heal well on their own with gentle handling, and increased dietary intakes of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. There may be an increase risk for fractures throughout the first year of life for very premature infants with osteopenia of prematurity.

Review

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

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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