Randomized placebo-controlled trial of a 42-Day tapering course of dexamethasone to reduce the duration of ventilator dependency in very low birth weight infants

J M Kothadia, T M O'Shea, D Roberts, S T Auringer, R G Weaver, R G Dillard
Pediatrics 1999, 104 (1): 22-7

OBJECTIVE: To assess the effect on duration of ventilator dependency of a 42-day tapering course of dexamethasone in very low birth weight neonates.

METHODS: Infants (N = 118) were assigned randomly, within birth weight/gender strata, to treatment with either a 42-day tapering course of dexamethasone or an equal volume of saline as placebo. Entry criteria were 1) birth weight <1501 g; 2) age between 15 and 25 days; 3) <10% decrease in ventilator settings for 24 hours and FIO2 >/=0.3; 4) absence of patent ductus arteriosus, sepsis, major congenital malformation, congenital heart disease; and 5) no evidence of maternal HIV or hepatitis B infection. The dosage schedule was 0.25 mg/kg bid for 3 days, then 0.15 mg/kg bid for 3 days, then a 10% reduction in the dose every 3 days until a dose of 0.1 mg/kg had been given for 3 days, from which time a dose of 0.1 mg/kg qod was continued until 42 days after entry. The primary endpoint was the number of days on assisted ventilation after study entry. Secondary outcomes of interest included days on supplemental oxygen, days of hospitalization, and potential adverse effects, such as infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, left ventricular hypertrophy, and severe retinopathy of prematurity.

RESULTS: Infants in the dexamethasone- and placebo-treated groups were similar in terms of baseline attributes, including birth weight, gestational age, gender, race, and ventilator settings at entry. Infants treated with dexamethasone were on assisted ventilation and supplemental oxygen for fewer days after study entry (median days on ventilator, 5th and 95th percentiles, 13 [1-64] vs 25 [6-104]; days on oxygen, 59 [6-247] vs 100 [11-346]). No differences were found in risk of death, infection, or severe retinopathy. In subgroup analyses, the association of dexamethasone with more rapid weaning from the ventilator was weaker among infants enrolled before the 16th day of life, infants with chest radiographs showing cystic changes and/or hyperinflation, and infants requiring an FIO2 >/=0.7 or a peak inspiratory pressure >/=19 at study entry.

CONCLUSIONS: A 42-day tapering course of dexamethasone decreases the duration of ventilator and oxygen dependency in very low birth weight infants and is not associated with an increased risk of short-term adverse effects.

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