Background: Neonates with pulmonary hypertension have been treated with inhaled nitric oxide because of studies suggesting that it is a selective pulmonary vasodilator. We conducted a randomized, multicenter, controlled trial to determine whether inhaled nitric oxide would reduce mortality or the initiation of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation in infants with hypoxic respiratory failure.
Methods: Infants born after a gestation of > or =34 weeks who were 14 days old or less, had no structural heart disease, and required assisted ventilation and whose oxygenation index was 25 or higher on two measurements were eligible for the study. The infants were randomly assigned to receive nitric oxide at a concentration of 20 ppm or 100 percent oxygen (as a control). Infants whose partial pressure of arterial oxygen (PaO2) increased by 20 mm Hg or less after 30 minutes were studied for a response to 80-ppm nitric oxide or control gas.
Results: The 121 infants in the control group and the 114 in the nitric oxide group had similar base-line clinical characteristics. Sixty-four percent of the control group and 46 percent of the nitric oxide group died within 120 days or were treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (P=0.006). Seventeen percent of the control group and 14 percent of the nitric oxide group died (P not significant), but significantly fewer in the nitric oxide group received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (39 percent vs. 54 percent, P=0.014). The nitric oxide group had significantly greater improvement in PaO2 (increase, 58.2+/-85.2 mm Hg, vs. 9.7+/-51.7 mm Hg in the controls; P<0.001) and in the oxygenation index (a decrease of 14.1+/-21.1, vs. an increase of 0.8+/-21.1 in the controls; P<0.001). The study gas was not discontinued in any infant because of toxicity.
Conclusions: Nitric oxide therapy reduced the use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, but had no apparent effect on mortality in critically ill infants with hypoxic respiratory failure.