Low serum cortisol in term newborns with refractory hypotension

J Perinatol. Jul-Aug 1999;19(5):352-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.jp.7200202.


Objectives: The aim of this study is to measure baseline serum cortisol levels and clinical response to glucocorticoid therapy in a group of term infants with refractory hypotension.

Study design: Seven term newborns with refractory hypotension were included. Serum cortisol levels were drawn before initiation of glucocorticoid therapy and measured by either fluorescence polarization immunoassay or radioimmunoassay. Baseline blood pressures, heart rate, and inotropes doses were recorded at baseline, then 4, 8, 12, 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours after glucocorticoid therapy. Urine output and volume expanders the infants received were recorded 24 hours before and after glucocorticoid therapy. Dexamethasone was used at a starting dose of 0.2 mg/kg per day divided every 12 hours. The statistical analysis was done using analysis of variance with repeated measures and paired t-test.

Results: Serum cortisol levels of the infants ranged from 2.0 to 15.4 micrograms/dl. After initiation of glucocorticoid therapy, there was significant improvement of blood pressure. Vasopressors were rapidly weaned and discontinued within 72 hours. In three of seven infants, no volume expanders were required after initiation of steroids, and none needed volume expanders after 2 days. Urine output increased significantly within 24 hours. All infants survived.

Conclusions: Glucocorticoids improved pressure and stabilized clinical conditions of a group of term newborns with refractory hypotension. Serum cortisol levels of these infants were relatively low. We speculate that a subset of critically ill term infants has relative adrenal insufficiency and glucocorticoid therapy may be essential.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cardiotonic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Diuresis
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypotension / blood*
  • Hypotension / drug therapy
  • Hypotension / physiopathology
  • Infant, Newborn / blood*
  • Plasma Substitutes / administration & dosage
  • Plasma Substitutes / therapeutic use


  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Plasma Substitutes
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone