Steroid treatment before birth appears to improve survival and reduce complications among extremely pre-term infants, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Ante-natal steroid therapy, given to women at risk of pre-term delivery, causes the foetal lungs to mature, and has been shown to improve survival and reduce complications among infants born from 24 to 34 weeks of pregnancy. However, previous studies of the treatment for infants born between the 22nd and 23rd week — those at the greatest risk for death and disability — were inconclusive.
The study was conducted by Sanjay Chawla, MD, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, and Wayne State University, Detroit, and colleagues at Neonatal Research Network, which appears in JAMA Network Open.
Of the mothers of the 431 infants in the study, 110 did not receive the steroid betamethasone, 80 received partial treatment (one dose) and 241 received complete treatment (two doses 24 hours apart).
Of the infants exposed to complete treatment, 53.9 per cent survived until hospital discharge, compared to 37.5 per cent with partial treatment and 35.5 per cent with no treatment. Compared to infants receiving no treatment, infants exposed to full treatment were 1.95 times more likely to survive and 2.74 times more likely to survive without major complications such as severe bleeding in the brain, severe lung disease (bronchopulmonary dysplasia), cysts in brain, severe inflammation of the intestines (necrotising enterocolitis) or abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina (retinopathy of prematurity needing treatment).
The study authors concluded that their results provide strong evidence to support giving ante-natal steroid therapy to pregnant people at risk for delivery at 22 weeks.