Background: Corticosteroids have been used late in the neonatal period to treat chronic lung disease (CLD) in preterm babies and early to try to prevent it. CLD is likely to be the result of persisting inflammation in the lung and the use of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs like dexamethasone has some rationale. Early use tends to be associated with increased adverse effects so that studies of moderately early treatment (7-14 days postnatal) might have the dual benefits of fewer side effects and onset of action before chronic inflammation is established.
Objectives: To determine if moderately early (7-14 days) postnatal corticosteroid treatment vs control (placebo or nothing) is of benefit in the prevention and/or treatment of early chronic lung disease in the preterm infant.
Search strategy: Randomised controlled trials of postnatal corticosteroid therapy were sought from the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials, Cochrane Database of Controlled Trials, Medline, hand searching paediatric and perinatal journals, examining previous review articles and information received from practising neonatologists.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials of postnatal corticosteroid treatment from 7-14 days of birth in high risk preterm infants were selected for this review.
Data collection and analysis: Data regarding clinical outcomes including mortality up to 28 days and before discharge, failure to extubate, mortality or chronic lung disease at 28 days and 36 weeks, CLD at 28 days and 36 weeks, infection, hyperglycaemia, hypertension, severe retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), pneumothorax, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), gastrointestinal bleeding, severe intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, late rescue with dexamethasone and abnormal neurological examination at follow-up were abstracted and analysed using RevMan 4.1.
Main results: Moderately early steroid treatment (vs placebo or nothing) reduced mortality by 28 days, chronic lung disease at 28 days and 36 weeks, and death or chronic lung disease at 28 days or 36 weeks. Earlier extubation was facilitated. There was no significant effect on the rates of pneumothorax, severe ROP, and NEC. Adverse effects included hypertension, hyperglycaemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and infection. Steroid-treated infants were less likely to need late rescue with dexamethasone. There was only one small study of longterm follow-up and it did not show any increase in adverse neurological outcome.
Reviewer's conclusions: Moderately early corticosteroid therapy (started at 7-14 days) reduces neonatal mortality and CLD, but at the cost of important short term adverse effects. No reliable evidence concerning long term effects is provided by the trials included in this review. In view of the evidence of an important increase in cerebral palsy and other adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes from trials in which postnatal steroids were begun either earlier or later than 7-14 days, there are reasonable grounds for extending this concern to moderately early initiation of steroid therapy. More research is urgently needed, including long term follow-up of survivors included in previous and any future trials, before the benefits and risks of postnatal steroid treatment, including initiation at 7-14 days, can be reliably assessed (See DART study; ~~ Doyle 2000~~).