Are very low birth weight infants born at high altitude at greater risk for adverse outcomes?

J Pediatr. 2001 Nov;139(5):669-72. doi: 10.1067/mpd.2001.118397.


Objective: To determine if neonatal intensive care at higher altitudes was associated with any variation in mortality or morbidity.

Methods: We reviewed demographic and outcome data on 5450 neonates with birth weights between 500 and 1500 g cared for in 76 different level II and III neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). The altitude break point of 4300 feet was prospectively chosen. Care was provided at 63 NICUs located below 4300 feet, "low-altitude," (n = 4534 neonates) and at 13 NICUs at or above 4300 feet, "high-altitude" (n = 916 neonates).

Results: Compared with neonates cared for at low altitude, neonates cared for at high altitude were more often non-Hispanic white and exposed to prenatal steroids. Neonates born at high altitude were more often treated with surfactant (60% vs 53%, P <.01). At 28 days of age, neonates cared for at high altitude were less often in room air (33% vs 50%, P <.01) compared with neonates cared for at low altitude. However, when corrected for barometric pressure, the calculated partial pressure of inspired oxygen at 28 days of age was lower for neonates cared for at high altitude compared with low altitude (165 +/- 80 vs 183 +/- 57, P <.01). There were no differences in the rates of mortality, severe intraventricular hemorrhage (grades 3 and 4), severe retinopathy of prematurity (stages 3 and 4), or necrotizing enterocolitis requiring surgical treatment.

Conclusions: Being cared for at NICUs located above 4300 feet above sea level was not associated with any increase in adverse events compared with NICUs located below 4300 feet.

MeSH terms

  • Altitude*
  • Critical Care*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Morbidity
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies