Background: Epidural analgesia is associated with a fourfold increased rate of intrapartum fever. The likely pathophysiology is a noninfectious maternal inflammatory activation. Safe interventions to reduce maternal and neonatal exposures to intrapartum fever and inflammation are needed.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine if prophylactic epidural steroids decrease fetal exposure to hyperthermia and inflammatory cytokines following epidural analgesia.
Study design: This is a randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled trial. Term nulliparous women requesting epidural analgesia received 80 mg methylprednisolone or preservative-free normal saline via the epidural catheter at placement. The primary outcome was maternal temperature >100.4°F. Secondary outcomes included fetal exposure to inflammation as assessed by cord blood interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels and rates of funisitis. Power analysis estimated a sample size requirement of 276, but new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations advising a black box warning on epidural steroids resulted in early study termination.
Results: A total of 116 subjects were enrolled: 58 treatments and 58 placebos. There was no difference in the rate of maternal intrapartum fever or cord blood IL-6 levels between treatment arms. No complications listed in the FDA warning occurred.
Conclusion: Prophylactic epidural methylprednisolone was not effective in reducing intrapartum fever or neonatal inflammation following epidural analgesia. Alternate mechanisms and preventative strategies should be considered.
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