Background: Postnatal corticosteroids reduce ventilator dependence in preterm infants, but possible long-term benefits for either survival or sensorineural morbidity are not proved.
Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the association between corticosteroid therapy given postnatally and sensorineural outcome in childhood.
Subjects: The subjects comprised 346 consecutive livebirths either of birthweight < 1000 g or with gestational age < 28 weeks born in the state of Victoria during 1991 and 1992, and who survived the first week after birth; 120 (34.7%) were given corticosteroids postnatally.
Results: Of the 120 children who received corticosteroids, 98 (81.7%) survived to 5 years of age, compared with 200 (88.5%) of the 226 children who did not receive corticosteroids. At 5 years of age, survivors treated with corticosteroids postnatally had significantly higher rates of cerebral palsy (corticosteroids 23%, no corticosteroids 4%), blindness (corticosteroids 4%, no corticosteroids 1%) or an intelligence quotient more than one standard deviation below the mean (corticosteroids 54%, no corticosteroids 32%) compared with children not treated with corticosteroids. The rate of sensorineural disabilities imposed by these impairments was significantly higher in children treated with postnatal corticosteroids, and the association between adverse sensorineural outcome and postnatal corticosteroids remained after adjustments for potentially confounding variables. In a separate case-control analysis of 60 children in each group, the rate of cerebral palsy remained significantly elevated (corticosteroids 22%, no corticosteroids 5%).
Conclusion: Postnatal corticosteroid therapy is associated with substantial adverse sensorineural outcomes at 5 years of age.