Circulatory support of the sick preterm infant

Semin Neonatol. 2001 Feb;6(1):85-95. doi: 10.1053/siny.2000.0034.


In the majority of preterm infants, especially during the immediate postnatal period, hypotension is primarily caused by abnormal peripheral vasoregulation and/or myocardial dysfunction and not by absolute hypovolemia. Therefore, aggressive volume resuscitation is not warranted and is potentially harmful. Volume support should be limited to 10-20 ml/kg of isotonic saline administration and, if sustained normalization of the blood pressure cannot be achieved, early initiation of cardiovascular pharmacological support is recommended. However, in preterm infants who present with an identifiable volume loss, the kind of fluid lost should first be replaced. Due to its beneficial cardiovascular and renal actions, dopamine is the drug of choice in the treatment of neonatal hypotension. Dobutamine may be added if myocardial dysfunction persists or develops during dopamine treatment. In some critically ill preterm infants, escalation of dopamine therapy or addition of epinephrine is necessary yet not always effective indicating the development of pressor resistant hypotension. Downregulation of cardiovascular adrenergic receptors and some degree of adrenal insufficiency may explain this phenomenon. In these patients, a brief course of steroid treatment may be successful in stabilizing the cardiovascular status and decreasing the requirement for pressor/inotrope support. However, well-designed randomized and controlled clinical trials are needed in the future to determine the effectiveness and potential short- and long-term side effects of steroid administration in preterm infants with pressor-resistant hypotension. In summary, management of the critically ill hypotensive preterm infant remains challenging and requires a better understanding of the pathophysiology of neonatal shock and improvements in our ability to evaluate cardiac output, organ blood flow, and tissue perfusion at the bedside.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dobutamine / therapeutic use
  • Dopamine / therapeutic use
  • Epinephrine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use
  • Hypotension / drug therapy*
  • Hypotension / therapy
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Norepinephrine / therapeutic use
  • Sodium Chloride / therapeutic use


  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Dobutamine
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Dopamine
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine