In 232 newborn babies of less than 32 weeks' gestational age ultrasound brain scans were carried out shortly after birth, daily for the first week of life, and at least twice weekly thereafter. Periventricular echogenicity associated with or progressing to periventricular leukomalacia (ischaemic brain lesions) was present in nine babies within two hours of birth (early onset); 30 other babies subsequently developed similar lesions (late onset). Babies with early onset lesions were more likely to have a history of intrauterine growth retardation and to have recurrent apnoea in the first few hours after birth. By contrast, late onset lesions were associated with hyaline membrane disease. In later childhood four of six survivors with early onset periventricular leukomalacia, and seven of 14 survivors with late onset periventricular leukomalacia, had various disabilities including spastic diplegia, impaired vision, squints, sensorineural hearing loss, and developmental delay. In a third of the children with disabilities ischaemic brain lesions were noted within two hours of birth, raising the possibility that some of this damage had taken place before or during birth.
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