Pregnancy and Retinopathy of Prematurity

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) occurs because the development of the eye, which continues even after birth, is interrupted when the baby is born prematurely and abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina and even into the eye. The ultimate result of untreated severe ROP is blindness.

Development of the Fetus with ROP

The retina's blood vessels begin to develop when the fetus is about three months old. The last 12 to 16 weeks of fetal growth during pregnancy is a time of rapid development of the retina. In fact, the retina continues to develop even after the baby is born at term until he or she is three to four months old.

When this rapid development is interrupted by the baby's premature birth, the infant is at risk for retinopathy of prematurity. When a baby is born prematurely, the normal growth of blood vessels stops and the abnormal growth of these vessels begins. The abnormal blood vessels may grow into the usually clear gel that fills the back of the eye.

These abnormal blood vessels are fragile and may bleed. Scar tissue can develop and as the scar shrinks, it pulls the retina away from the inner wall of the eye. If the retina is partially detached, it can lead to impaired vision. If the retina is fully detached and not repaired properly, it can lead to blindness. Sometimes it is not possible to restore adequate vision.

Early Treatment and Diagnosis of ROP

Babies born before 30 weeks gestation and weighing less than three pounds should be screened for retinopathy of prematurity. Depending upon the baby's gestational age at birth, the first eye exam should be done between the baby's fourth and ninth week after birth.

The diagnosis of ROP is made by the eye doctor looking through a special ophthalmoscope. The disease is categorized by stages by the ophthalmologist. These stages range from Stage I (mild) to Stage V (severe). Stages I and II usually need no treatment because the condition resolves on its own most of the time.

Infants diagnosed with Stage III disease may need treatment if the blood vessel growth is sufficiently abnormal. Stage IV indicates the retina is partially detached and Stage V means the retina is completely detached.

Treatment for retinopathy of prematurity should begin within 72 hours of diagnosis. Early treatment can improve the baby's chances for normal vision. Treatment can include:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing the abnormal blood vessels to prevent their spread).
  • Photocoagulation (laser therapy). This too is done to prevent abnormal blood vessel growth. For laser therapy to work, it must be done before scarring and retinal detachment occur.
  • Surgery if the retina is detached. While surgeons continue to improve on procedures, problems with normal vision may still occur.

When a baby is born prematurely the eyes and eyelids are not fully developed. The neonatal environment needs to be carefully controlled (such as lighting).

Was Your Baby Diagnosed with ROP? Contact a Lawyer Now

If your baby was diagnosed with ROP, you need to be sure your infant was properly diagnosed and treated. If you suspect problems with diagnosis and treatment, you should contact a retinopathy of prematurity lawyer to find out if you qualify to file a claim. To learn more, please contact us today.