Retinopathy of Prematurity Diagnosis

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a disease that, as its name suggests, occurs mostly in premature infants. The more premature and lower the weight of the baby, the greater the chances he or she will be diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity.

Over 80 percent of premature infants weighing less than 1,000 grams or 2.2 pounds will develop retinopathy of prematurity. Most of these babies will not have vision problems, but those with the most severe disease can become blind. The condition causes the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina of the eye. It usually affects both eyes.

The Retina

The retina is a layer of nerve cells at the back of the eye that acts like the film in a camera and enables us to see. Three months after the baby is conceived, blood cells begin to form in the retina and continue to grow until the infant is born. Soon after birth, the formation of the blood vessels, which the retina needs for its supply of nutrition, is complete.

If the baby is born prematurely before the development of the eye is complete, the blood vessels may stop growing or they may grow from the retina and into the usually clear gel that fills the back of the eye. These blood vessels are fragile and can break and bleed in the eye.

Retinopathy of Prematurity Diagnosis

Diagnosis must be made by an eye doctor who uses an ophthalmoscope to see into the eye. Usually, babies younger than 30 weeks gestation (full term is 40 weeks) are screened for the disease, which most often occurs in the youngest and sickest infants. Some premature babies who are at higher risk for the disease, should also be screened even though they may weigh between 3 and 4 ½ pounds and are born after 30 weeks gestation.

When an ROP diagnosis is made, the baby’s ROP is graded by stages of severity that the eye doctor sees using the ophthalmoscope.

  • Stage I: Blood vessel growth at this stage is mildly abnormal
  • Stage II: The growth of blood vessels is moderately abnormal
  • Stage III: The growth of blood vessels is severely abnormal
  • Stage IV: In addition to the blood vessel growth being severely abnormal the retina is partly detached
  • Stage V: The retina is completely detached

Stage V: The retina is completely detached

If the growth of these new blood vessels is severe enough and accompanied by what is called “plus disease” the doctor may use a laser to treat the periphery of the retina. Plus disease occurs when the blood vessels in the back of the eye become enlarged and twisted.

While the laser treatment can reduce the likelihood of the disease progressing to the blinding stages of IV or V, it does not entirely eliminate that possibility. If the disease progresses to stages IV or V, the retina has become detached and other treatment options are possible.

Was Your Baby Diagnosed with ROP?

When a newborn is diagnosed with ROP, it can be extremely frightening for the parents. A million questions may be running through your mind. For instance, how did this happen? Who is responsible? Will your child be blind?

Our ROP attorneys can help you find the answers to your questions and may be able to help you seek and obtain compensation for your baby’s suffering. To schedule a free case review to learn more, please contact us today.