Understanding Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

What is BPD?

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is a lung disease that is seen most often in babies who were born severely premature—more than 10 weeks before their due date. Babies with BPD have inflammation and scarring in the lungs.

About 5,000 to 10,000 babies born in the United States each year have BPD. More babies today have BPD than 30 years ago because more very premature babies survive.

How Serious is BPD?

Most babies with BPD recover, and many are able to have normal, active lives.

Recovery may be a slow process. After your baby leaves the hospital he or she may need continued medication, breathing treatments, or even oxygen at home. Although most children can come off supplemental oxygen by the end of their first year, a few with serious cases may need a breathing machine called a ventilator for several years or, in rare cases, their entire lives.

During the first two years, a child with BPD may have a number of lung infections. You should see the doctor when your baby has a cold, runny nose, cough, chest cold or fever.

Within a year or two, most children who had BPD have few breathing problems. They are not restricted in their activities and do not need special medical treatment.

What Causes BPD?

BPD most commonly occurs as a complication of respiratory therapy in premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). RDS is a condition in which the baby's lungs are not developed enough to take in the air they need.

Babies with RDS must have oxygen and often need a machine to help them breathe to prevent brain damage and to save their lives. But, the oxygen premature babies need can damage their lungs by causing inflammation. This can injure the airways. High levels of oxygen also may slow the normal development of the lungs in very premature babies.

When oxygen must be delivered into the babies' lungs by a breathing machine (ventilator or respirator), it may be even more damaging. These machines use pressure to push air into the lungs. But the pressure can irritate the lungs and cause them to become more inflamed. To help avoid this problem, babies may instead be given oxygen through the nose with a nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Infections in premature babies' lungs can be another cause of BPD. The infection causes inflammation, which narrows breathing passages.