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What Is Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia?

Bronchopulmonary (BRONG-ko-PUL-mo-NAR-e) dysplasia (dis-PLA-ze-ah), or BPD, is a serious lung condition that affects infants. BPD mostly affects premature infants who need oxygen therapy (oxygen given through nasal prongs, a mask, or a breathing tube).

Most infants who develop BPD are born more than 10 weeks before their due dates, weigh less than 2 pounds (about 1,000 grams) at birth, and have breathing problems. Infections that occur before or shortly after birth also can contribute to BPD.

Some infants who have BPD may need long-term breathing support from nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) machines or ventilators.


Many babies who develop BPD are born with serious respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). RDS is a breathing disorder that mostly affects premature newborns. These infants' lungs aren't fully formed or aren't able to make enough surfactant (sur-FAK-tant).

Surfactant is a liquid that coats the inside of the lungs. It helps keep them open so an infant can breathe in air once he or she is born.

Without surfactant, the lungs collapse, and the infant has to work hard to breathe. He or she might not be able to breathe in enough oxygen to support the body's organs. Without proper treatment, the lack of oxygen may damage the infant's brain and other organs.

Babies who have RDS are treated with surfactant replacement therapy. They also may need oxygen therapy. Shortly after birth, some babies who have RDS also are treated with NCPAP or ventilators (machines that support breathing).

Often, the symptoms of RDS start to improve slowly after about a week. However, some babies get worse and need more oxygen or breathing support from NCPAP or a ventilator.

If premature infants still require oxygen therapy by the time they reach their original due dates, they're diagnosed with BPD.


Advances in care now make it possible for more premature infants to survive. However, these infants are at high risk for BPD.

Most babies who have BPD get better in time, but they may need treatment for months or even years. They may continue to have lung problems throughout childhood and even into adulthood. There's some concern about whether people who had BPD as babies can ever have normal lung function.

As children who have BPD grow, their parents can help reduce the risk of BPD complications. Parents can encourage healthy eating habits and good nutrition. They also can avoid cigarette smoke and other lung irritants.

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Last Updated: January 12, 2012