What Is BPD?

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is a disease of the lungs related to prematurity. Causative factors are not completely known, but contributing factors may include: gestational age, chorioamniotis, gender, oxygen administration and ventilation. There is a wide spectrum of severity of BPD. BPD usually affects babies who are born more than 10 weeks before their due dates, weigh less than 2.5 pounds (1,000 grams) or who have breathing problems at birth or need long-term breathing support.

What Causes BPD?

It is now believed that a baby gets BPD as a result of the way his/her lungs respond to high levels of oxygen given at birth, pressure caused by mechanical ventilation or infections.

High levels of oxygen can cause inflammation in the lungs. This inflammation can result in injury to breathing passages, or slow the normal development of the lungs.

In the past, individual mechanical ventilators were used for newborns who could not breathe on their own. These machines apply pressure to push air into the lungs. The pressure can cause the lungs to become more inflamed. Today, more doctors are putting babies on nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) machines, which don’t put the same kind of pressure on babies’ lungs.

Lung infections in premature babies can cause inflammation which narrows the breathing passages and makes it harder for the babies to breath.

Symptoms of BPD

Most babies who get BPD are born with Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). RDS can be characterized by rapid, shallow breathing, sharp pulling in of the chest with each breath taken, grunting during exhalation, and flaring of the nostrils during breathing. Babies with RDS are usually put onto breathing machines to prevent damage to other body organs.

Babies with BPD can also develop pulmonary arterial hypertension, high blood pressure, and cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart caused by high blood pressure).

Treatment for BPD

Medications commonly used for inpatient and outpatient therapies include ventilators, oxygen, diuretics and bronchodilators. There can be long-term sequelae of BPD such as recurrent wheezing or chronic lung disease.