Aziz Sheikh

Aziz Sheikh, MD

A research team led by Aziz Sheikh, MD, Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice, BWH Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, in collaboration with investigators at the Maastricht University Medical Centre and Maastricht University School of Public Health in the Netherlands and The University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, have published findings strongly suggesting that preterm birth (prior to 37 weeks gestation) increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood, and that the risk of developing these conditions increases as the degree of prematurity increases.

The findings are based on a systematic review and meta-analysis of 30 studies that investigated the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders among 1.5 million children. These studies were conducted between 1995 and 2014, a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity.

Across the studies, 13.7 percent of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders compared with 8.3 percent of babies born at term, representing a 46 percent increased in adjusted odds. Children born very early (before 32 weeks gestation) had approximately 2.8  times the adjusted odds of developing asthma/wheezing disorders compared with babies born at term.

“Worldwide, more than 11 percent of babies are born preterm,” said Sheikh. “As asthma is a chronic condition, our findings underscore the need to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders in order to develop preventive and therapeutic interventions.”

The study was published in January 2014 in PLOS Medicine. The researchers have recently reported a further study investigating the impact of smoke-free legislation on risk of prematurity and asthma in children in The Lancet in March 2014.