The aim of the aborted trial was to determine whether the short early dexamethasone (DX) given after the birth improves the early outcome. We also reviewed the evidence (meta-analysis) to determine whether the duration of early DX treatment influences the early outcome, particularly in terms of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). The participants of the randomised multicentre, double-blinded placebo-controlled trial had a birth weight 500-999 g, gestation < or = 31.0 weeks, and respiratory failure by the age of 4 h. The infants received either four doses of DX (0.25 mg/kg at 12 h intervals) or placebo. The meta-analysis was performed to determine the beneficial and adverse effects of early short (<96 h duration) versus early prolonged (>96 h) DX treatment. The trial was discontinued after 109 infants had been enrolled. There was a non-significant improvement in the outcome (survival without BPD, severe intracranial haemorrhage or periventricular leukomalacia; RR 1.27; 95% CI 0.87-1.85). The risks for gastrointestinal perforation and hyperglycaemia tended to increase. A total of 15 trials were included in the meta-analysis: 10 involved prolonged (i.e. >96 h; 1594 infants) and five short interventions (1069 infants). Early prolonged DX decreased the RR for BPD to 0.72 (95% CI 0.61-0.87), whereas early short DX course did not significantly decrease the risk (RR 0.82; 95% CI 0.64-1.05). Gastrointestinal haemorrhages and perforations were significantly increased only in the early prolonged DX group.
Conclusion: The dosage and duration of early corticosteroid given to small premature infants influences the risk of the side-effects and the early outcome.