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Premature infants who receive the corticosteroid dexamethasone to prevent chronic lung disease of prematurity may pay a price down the road. According to new research, infants who receive the therapy suffer from retarded growth and poorer neuromotor and cognitive function compared with similar infants who didn't receive the therapy.


In the study, researchers followed 72 premature infants who'd received dexamethasone therapy within 12 hours of birth and 74 premature infants who hadn't received the treatment. At birth, all of the infants had severe respiratory distress syndrome requiring mechanical ventilation. Infants who received the drug were treated intravenously every 12 hours for 1 week, then the dose was tapered.


Researchers evaluated growth and progress of children who survived to school age. Compared with children in the control group, those who'd received dexamethasone therapy were significantly shorter and had a smaller head circumference at school age. Children in the dexamethasone group also had significantly poorer motor skills and coordination, lower IQ scores, and more clinically significant disabilities.


Based on their findings, researchers don't recommend early postnatal dexa-methasone therapy for the routine prevention of chronic lung disease of prematurity.




"Outcomes at School Age after Postnatal Dexamethasone Therapy for Lung Disease of Prematurity," The New England Journal of Medicine, T. Yeh, et al., March 25, 2004.