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The effect of gestational age on major neurodevelopmental disorders in preterm infants



Preterm infants have an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. We established a direct quantitative comparison of the association between the degree of prematurity and three different neurodevelopmental disorders.


In this cohort study, we combined data from 995,498 children in the Danish Medical Birth Register, from birth years 1997–2013, with information on cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and special educational needs. We estimated the gestational week-specific prevalence and risk for each of the disorders.


The risk ratio of cerebral palsy at gestational weeks 21–24, compared to term birth, was more than ten times higher than for the two other disorders. The prevalence of epilepsy and special educational needs declined almost parallel, with 9.2% (4.6%–13.5%) and 12.5% (11.2%–13.7%), respectively, per week of gestation toward term birth. Cerebral palsy did not decline similarly: from gestational weeks 21–24 until week 29 the prevalence declined insignificantly by 0.6% (−11.1%–11.0%) per week; whereas from week 29 until term, the prevalence declined markedly by 36.7% (25.9%–45.9%) per week.


The prevalence and risk of cerebral palsy are affected differently by the degree of prematurity compared with epilepsy and special educational needs, possibly reflecting important differences in cerebral pathophysiology.


  • For each week of gestation toward term birth, there was a clear log-linear decline in the prevalence of early childhood epilepsy and special educational needs.

  • In contrast, the risk of cerebral palsy was high at the earliest gestational age, and the prevalence did not decline significantly until gestational week 29, from where it declined notably by nearly 40% for each week of gestation until term birth.

  • Our results indicate important differences in the pathophysiological processes that associate preterm birth with these three neurodevelopmental disorders.

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Fig. 1: Study population.
Fig. 2: Prevalence (per 1000) with 95% confidence intervals for each gestational age group for the three disorders of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and special educational needs.
Fig. 3: Risk ratio with 95% confidence intervals for each gestational age group associated with the three disorders of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and special educational needs.


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This study was supported by the Elsass Foundation (19-3-0283). The funding parties did not have any involvement in the study.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.L.L., R.W., A.J., and G.G. created the concept and design. M.L.L., R.W., G.R., B.L., B.M.H., C.E.H.-H., and G.G. were a substantial part of data acquisition. M.L.L., R.W., and A.J. analyzed the data. M.L.L. and G.G. performed data interpretation. M.L.L., R.W., and G.G. created the original draft. All authors participated in critical reviewing and editing of the final version. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mads L. Larsen.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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No patient consent was required for this study.

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Larsen, M.L., Wiingreen, R., Jensen, A. et al. The effect of gestational age on major neurodevelopmental disorders in preterm infants. Pediatr Res 91, 1906–1912 (2022).

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