A randomised double blind placebo controlled study was conducted to determine whether a one week course of dexamethasone could reduce the severity of bronchopulmonary dysplasia in preterm infants without compromising their adrenal function. Forty one infants with a mean birth weight of 880 g and a gestational age of 27 weeks who were ventilator dependent at 10 days of age were enrolled. At the age of 28 days pulmonary outcome was significantly better in the girls treated with dexamethasone but not in all infants. There was no difference between the groups in the long term outcome, except for a shorter duration of supplemental oxygen in dexamethasone treated female infants. After the one week dexamethasone treatment there was a significant but short lived suppression of the basal cortisol concentrations and the adrenal response to corticotrophin (ACTH). No serious side effects were observed. It is concluded that early one week dexamethasone treatment improves short term pulmonary outcome in premature infants, but there is no clear evidence of long term benefits.
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