Objective: National Women's Hospital is one of two hospitals to report a destructive brain lesion, namely encephaloclastic porencephaly (ECPE), in extremely preterm infants. It has been associated with non-cephalic presentation, early hypotension and the number of chest physiotherapy treatments in the first month. The aim of the present study was to determine the temporal relationship between ECPE and chest physiotherapy use in very low-birth weight (VLBW) infants in our unit.
Methodology: Cerebral ultrasound scan reports, post-mortem reports, clinical and physiotherapy records and, if indicated, original ultrasound films were reviewed for all VLBW babies admitted between 1985 and 1998.
Results: Over the 14 year period in question, 2219 babies with a birth weight < or = 1500 g were admitted. Encephaloclastic porencephaly was found in only the 13 previously reported babies born between 1992 and 1994. Encephaloclastic porencephaly was excluded in 1564 (70%) babies. In 621 (28%) babies who did not have late ultrasound scans, ECPE was thought to be unlikely either because the babies never had any chest physiotherapy (n=479) or because they had chest physiotherapy but were known to be neurodevelopmentally normal on follow up (n=142). Data were incomplete for 21 babies (0.9%). The number of chest physiotherapy treatments per baby decreased from a median of 95 prior to 1989 to 38 and the age of starting treatment increased from 5 to 8 days after 1990. The use of chest physiotherapy ceased in 1995.
Conclusions: Encephaloclastic porencephaly emerged as a problem at a time when the use of chest physiotherapy had decreased. The cluster of cases seen between 1992 and 1994, although associated with the number of chest physiotherapy treatments given, began to appear because of some other factor.