AHRQ criteria on disability in infants and children

AHRQ criteria on disability in infants and children – Clinical Briefs Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Carrie Morantz

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has issued three guidelines to assist the Social Security Administration in determining disability in infants and children with low birth weights, failure to thrive, and short stature. The full evidence reports are available online at http:// www.ahrq.gov.

Low Birth Weight. The AHRQ investigated the presence of developmental disability in former premature infants and risk for long-term developmental disabilities. Among the 4 million infants born in the United States in 2000, about 58,000 (1.5 percent) weighed less than 1,500 g (3.3 lb). This category of infants has the highest neonatal mortality and morbidity. The AHRQ found evidence that infants who weigh less than 1,500 g at birth are at increased risk for cerebral palsy, major neurologic disability, cognitive abnormality in early childhood, mental retardation, blindness, hearing loss, and growth impairment. Infants with very low birth weights and bronchopulmonary dysplasia also are at increased risk for long-term pulmonary disability.

Failure to Thrive. The underlying cause of failure to thrive is insufficient nutrition. This may occur when sufficient nutrients are not available to the child as a result of social or environmental causes that prevent parents from obtaining, preparing, or offering age-appropriate food. This growth failure often includes concurrent and potentially persistent disability.

Almost any serious childhood illness also can result in failure to thrive through the following mechanisms:

* Insufficient nutrition because of the child’s inability to feed properly (e.g., severe neurologic dysfunction, gastroesophageal reflux, cleft palate).

* Nutrition is adequate but inadequately absorbed (e.g., malabsorption syndromes).

* The disease process creates added metabolic requirements (e.g., asthma, cardiac failure, thyroiditis). Failure to thrive may be the first clue to an active disease process that has not yet manifested with specific symptoms.

Severe malnutrition has been shown to cause permanent damage to various parts of the brain and central nervous system, leading to a range of disabilities manifested by aberrant behavior, cognitive, language, and motor development. Failure to thrive also is closely linked with infectious disease.

Children who are undernourished consistently have been found to have significant and profound changes in cell-mediated immunity, complement levels, and opsonization that lead to susceptibility to various infections. Failure to thrive also is associated with disabilities in cardiac function, gastrointestinal conditions, persistently small stature, and other physiologic problems.

The AHRQ found evidence that in developed countries, failure to thrive is associated with growth retardation that persists despite adequate correction of malnutrition.

Short Stature. Medically determinable causes of short stature include abnormalities in the growth hormone axis (e.g., decreased growth hormone production, diminished response to growth hormone). Other endocrine abnormalities such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease may lead to short stature, as can a variety of genetic disorders, including chromosomal, metabolic, and single gene disorders.

Skeletal dysplasias are genetic disorders that result in abnormal formation of part or all of the skeleton. The skeletal dysplasias most likely to lead to short stature are those that involve formation and growth of the long bones or the spine. The AHRQ found that children with skeletal dysplasias are not at increased risk for severe impairments in intelligence, academic achievement, or psychologic outcomes. There was an increased risk for delay in achievement of motor skills in children with achondroplasia and osteogenesis imperfecta, and decreased ambulation, range of motion, and mobility in children with more severe forms of osteogenesis imperfecta.

The presence of a chronic disease in a child is known to be a risk factor for decreased growth to a varying degree. However, the underlying cause of the decreased growth has not been determined in all chronic diseases.

The AHRQ found that children with short stature do not have enough difficulties with academic achievement to qualify as a disability.

COPYRIGHT 2003 American Academy of Family Physicians

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group