Treatment of apnea of prematurity

Paediatr Drugs. 2003;5(3):195-210. doi: 10.2165/00128072-200305030-00006.


In the last decade, knowledge regarding the neurodevelopment and functional aspects of the respiratory centers during postnatal maturation has increased substantially. However, an increase in such knowledge has not provided a basis for change in practice. The diagnosis of apnea of prematurity (AOP) is one of exclusion. All causes of secondary apnea must be ruled out before initiating treatment for AOP. Treatment will depend on the etiology as well as effectiveness and tolerability of the treatment by the patient. The primary goal of any treatment of AOP is to prevent the frequency of apnea lasting >20 seconds, and/or those that are shorter, but associated with cyanosis and bradycardia. The clinical management of AOP is not much different today than it was two decades ago, with pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatment options remaining the mainstay of therapy. Methylxanthines are still the most widely used pharmacologic agents. Due to the wider therapeutic index of caffeine and ease of once daily administration, it should be the preferred agent. Doxapram, or nonpharmacologic treatment measures such as nasal continuous positive airway pressure, may be considered in infants who are unresponsive to methylxanthine treatment alone. Treatment should be continued until there is complete resolution of apnea, and for some time thereafter. The choice of method for weaning treatment remains one of individual physician preference. Discharge from hospital after apnea requires close monitoring and some infants will require home apnea monitors. The decision to provide a home apnea monitor should be individualized for each patient, depending on the effectiveness of treatment and clinical response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminophylline / therapeutic use
  • Apnea / diagnosis
  • Apnea / drug therapy
  • Apnea / therapy*
  • Caffeine / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Doxapram / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Respiratory System Agents / administration & dosage
  • Respiratory System Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Respiratory System Agents / pharmacology
  • Respiratory System Agents / therapeutic use
  • Theophylline / therapeutic use


  • Respiratory System Agents
  • Aminophylline
  • Caffeine
  • Doxapram
  • Theophylline