Background: Postnatal corticosteroid therapy has been proved in randomized controlled trials to reduce ventilator dependence and the rate of chronic lung disease in preterm infants with few serious short-term side effects. However, there are other consequences that might follow postnatal corticosteroid therapy that are more important, including mortality or cerebral palsy.
Objectives: To review the evidence from reported randomized controlled trials on the effects of postnatal corticosteroid on long-term mortality and motor dysfunction, including cerebral palsy.
Methods: The methods involved a meta-analysis of reported randomized controlled trials, following guidelines of the Cochrane Collaboration, including calculation of event rate differences (ERD) and 95% confidence intervals (CI).
Results: The mortality rate difference was non-significant both statistically and clinically (ERD - 0.1% favouring corticosteroids, 95% CI -2.9% to 2.8%). There were no subgroups in which a beneficial effect of postnatal corticosteroids on survival could be demonstrated. The rate of motor dysfunction in survivors was significantly higher in survivors from the postnatal corticosteroid group (ERD 11.9% favouring controls, 95% CI 4.6% to 19.2%). The rate of survival, free of motor dysfunction, was significantly lower in the postnatal corticosteroid group (ERD 7.8% favouring controls, 95% CI 0.5% to 15.1%).
Conclusions: Although postnatal corticosteroids have short-term benefits, they do not increase the survival rate, and they may cause motor dysfunction in survivors. A large-scale, placebo-controlled randomized trial, with survival free of sensorineural impairments and disabilities as the major endpoint, is urgently needed.