Does aggressive phototherapy increase mortality while decreasing profound impairment among the smallest and sickest newborns?

J Perinatol. 2012 Sep;32(9):677-84. doi: 10.1038/jp.2012.64. Epub 2012 May 31.


Objective: Aggressive phototherapy (AgPT) is widely used and assumed to be safe and effective for even the most immature infants. We assessed whether the benefits and hazards for the smallest and sickest infants differed from those for other extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW; ≤ 1000 g) infants in our Neonatal Research Network trial, the only large trial of AgPT.

Study design: ELBW infants (n=1974) were randomized to AgPT or conservative phototherapy at age 12 to 36 h. The effect of AgPT on outcomes (death, impairment, profound impairment, death or impairment (primary outcome), and death or profound impairment) at 18 to 22 months of corrected age was related to BW stratum (501 to 750 g; 751 to 1000 g) and baseline severity of illness using multilevel regression equations. The probability of benefit and of harm was directly assessed with Bayesian analyses.

Result: Baseline illness severity was well characterized using mechanical ventilation and FiO(2) at 24 h age. Among mechanically ventilated infants ≤ 750 g BW (n=684), a reduction in impairment and in profound impairment was offset by higher mortality (P for interaction <0.05) with no significant effect on composite outcomes. Conservative Bayesian analyses of this subgroup identified a 99% (posterior) probability that AgPT increased mortality, a 97% probability that AgPT reduced impairment, and a 99% probability that AgPT reduced profound impairment.

Conclusion: Findings from the only large trial of AgPT suggest that AgPT may increase mortality while reducing impairment and profound impairment among the smallest and sickest infants. New approaches to reduce their serum bilirubin need development and rigorous testing.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / therapy*
  • Infant, Extremely Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / therapy*
  • Phototherapy / adverse effects*
  • Phototherapy / methods
  • Phototherapy / mortality*
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Severity of Illness Index