Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

Premature infants with low birth weights are at higher risk for developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, is a potentially blinding disease caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue located at the back of the eye. ROP affects premature infants who have low birth weights and typically develops in the infant’s eyes about 4 to 6 weeks after birth.

Henry Ford pediatric ophthalmologists have extensive experience working with premature infants, and we understand the special needs of these patients – and their families.

Risk factors for ROP

The smaller the birth weight, the higher the risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity. Babies who are born before 31 weeks of gestation and who have a birth weight of 1,250 grams (2 ¾ pounds) or less are at the highest risk. Other factors that can contribute to the risk of ROP include:

  • Anemia
  • Blood transfusions
  • Poor weight gain
  • Respiratory distress
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Overall health of the infant

In addition, infants with retinopathy of prematurity are at higher risk for developing eye conditions later in life, including:

ROP stages

In some infants, the disease will resolve spontaneously and normal vision will develop. In others, it can progress to a point where the abnormal blood vessels cause the retinas to detach, which may result in severe visual impairment or blindness if left untreated. The five stages of ROP progression are based on the level of abnormal blood vessel growth and retinal detachment:

  • Stage 1: Mildly abnormal blood vessel growth
  • Stage 2: Moderately abnormal blood vessel growth
  • Stage 3: Severely abnormal blood vessel growth
  • Stage 4: Partially detached retina
  • Stage 5: Completely detached retina

It is crucial that all infants who are at high risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity have a retinal exam by four to six weeks of age. They should also have a follow-up exam every one to two weeks to test for the presence of ROP until the infant’s retinal blood vessels have completed normal development.

ROP treatment

In some infants with significant ROP, a laser treatment can be used to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which can save vision and prevent blindness in most cases. If the retina has already detached, surgery will be needed.

At Henry Ford, patients come first.

The Henry Ford Department of Ophthalmology is committed to providing our patients with compassionate, personalized care. We feature the most advanced treatments in eye care and are dedicated to vision research – always staying at the forefront of innovation. A leader in Michigan, as well as one of the largest ophthalmology practices in the United States, we treat more than 55,000 patients per year at 12 locations throughout southeast Michigan. In addition, our team works closely with Henry Ford Medical Group physicians in other departments, providing multidisciplinary, coordinated care for those patients who need it.

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