Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of early administration of dexamethasone on the incidence of chronic lung disease (CLD) in high risk preterm infants and to evaluate the side effects of the early steroid administration.
Design: Randomised clinical trial.
Setting: Neonatal intensive care unit.
Patients: 50 infants at high risk of CLD were randomly assigned after 72 h of life to the dexamethasone group (n = 25) or to the control group (n = 25). The treated infants received dexamethasone intravenously from the 4th day of life for 7 days (0.5 mg/kg per day for the first 3 days, 0.25 mg/kg per day for the next 3 days and 0.125 mg/kg per day on the 7th day). The control group received no steroid treatment.
Results: The incidence of CLD at 28 days of life and at 36 weeks' postconceptional age was significantly lower in the dexamethasone group than in the control group (p < 0.001). Moreover, infants in the dexamethasone group remained intubated and required oxygen therapy for a shorter period than those in the control group (p < 0.001). Hyperglycaemia, hypertension, growth failure and mainly hypertrophy of the left ventricle were the transient side effects associated with early steroid administration.
Conclusions: Early dexamethasone administration may be useful in preventing CLD, but its use should prudently be restricted to preterm infants at high risk of CLD.