Risk of asthma in young adults who were born preterm: A Swedish national cohort study

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OBJECTIVE: Preterm birth is associated with asthma-like symptoms in childhood and possibly in adolescence, but the longer-term risk of asthma is unknown and increasingly relevant as larger numbers of these individuals enter adulthood. Our objective was to evaluate whether those who were born preterm are more likely to be prescribed asthma medications in young adulthood than those who were born term. PATIENTS AND METHODS: We conducted a national cohort study of all singleton infants born in Sweden from 1973 through 1979 (n = 622 616), followed to ages 25.5 to 35.0 years to determine whether asthma medications were prescribed in 2005-2007. Asthma medication data were obtained from all outpatient and inpatient pharmacies throughout Sweden. To improve the positive predictive value for asthma, the outcome was defined as prescription of (1) both a β-2 agonist inhalant and a glucocorticoid inhalant or (2) a combination inhalant containing a β-2 agonist and other drugs for obstructive airway diseases. RESULTS: Young adults who were born extremely preterm (23-27 weeks' gestation) were 2.4 times more likely (adjusted 95% CI: 1.41-4.06) to be prescribed asthma medications than those who were born term. No association was found between later preterm birth (28-32 or 33-36 weeks' gestation) and asthma medications in young adulthood. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study with sufficient statistical power to evaluate the risk of asthma beyond adolescence in individuals who were born extremely preterm. The results suggest that extreme preterm birth (23-27 weeks' gestation), but not later preterm birth, is associated with an increased risk of asthma at least into young adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e913-e920
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Asthma
  • Premature birth


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