The former preterm infant and risk of post-operative apnoea: recommendations for management

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2006 Aug;50(7):888-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.2006.01068.x.


The preterm infant presenting for anaesthesia during the first 6 months of life is a major anaesthetic challenge. One of the most serious post-operative complications is apnoea with or without bradycardia. For this review, we conducted a search of the current literature in order to formulate a set of evidence-based clinical guidelines to help clinicians in the management of the former preterm infant to avoid post-operative apnoea. Only a small number of patients have been enrolled into prospective, randomized, controlled studies. Based on the current literature, regional anaesthesia is strongly recommended, preferably neuraxial block, but general anaesthesia is also used and in this setting, opioids and muscle relaxants should be avoided. Infants with a post-conceptual age of less than 46 weeks should be admitted for continuous monitoring for at least 12 h post-operatively. In infants with a post-conceptual age (PCA) between 46 and 60 weeks, a careful assessment of the child is mandatory and 12 h of respiratory monitoring is recommended if the patient's history reveals episodes of apnoea at home, chronic lung disease (CLD), neurological disease or anaemia. The otherwise healthy infant could be scheduled for theatre as the first patient on the list and subsequently monitored in the post-anaesthetic care unit for 6 h. The risk of apnoea in former preterm infants can be further reduced by the administration of intravenous caffeine (10 mg/kg). All of these patients should be referred to a tertiary centre for anaesthesia and surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Conduction
  • Anesthesia, General
  • Apnea / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Postoperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Premature Birth*
  • Risk Factors