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Prophylactic corticosteroids for preterm birth.

BACKGROUND: Respiratory distress syndrome is a serious complication of prematurity causing significant immediate and long-term mortality and morbidity.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to assess the effects of corticosteroids administered to pregnant women to accelerate fetal lung maturity prior to preterm delivery.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group trials register was searched.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of corticosteroid drugs capable of crossing the placenta compared with placebo or no treatment in women expected to deliver preterm as a result of either spontaneous preterm labour, prelabour rupture of the membranes preterm, or elective preterm delivery.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Eligibility and trial quality were assessed by one reviewer.

MAIN RESULTS: Eighteen trials including data on over 3700 babies were included. Antenatal administration of 24 milligrams of betamethasone, of 24 milligrams of dexamethasone, or two grams of hydrocortisone to women expected to give birth preterm was associated with a significant reduction in mortality (odds ratio 0.60, 95% confidence interval 0.48 to 0.75), respiratory distress syndrome (odds ratio 0.53, 95% confidence interval 0.44 to 0.63) and intraventricular haemorrhage in preterm infants. These benefits extended to a broad range of gestational ages and were not limited by gender or race. No adverse consequences of prophylactic corticosteroids for preterm birth have been identified.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Corticosteroids given prior to preterm birth (as a result of either preterm labour or elective preterm delivery) are effective in preventing respiratory distress syndrome and neonatal mortality. However there is not enough evidence to evaluate the use of repeated doses of corticosteroids in women who remain undelivered, but who are at continued risk of preterm birth. (This abstract has been prepared centrally.)

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