Around 20% of very low birthweight infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit become hypotensive within 24 hours of their admission. Standard treatment is either expansion of the circulating volume by the infusion of plasma protein fraction or by using dopamine to improve cardiac function. The purpose of this study was to investigate by a randomised controlled trial which was the most appropriate treatment. Thirty nine infants were randomised to receive either plasma protein fraction or dopamine as first line treatment if they became hypotensive within 24 hours of admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. Seventeen of 19 (89%) infants responded to dopamine, whereas only 9/20 (45%) responded to plasma protein fraction. The median dose of dopamine needed to increase the blood pressure to at least the 10th centile was 7.5 micrograms/kg/min and was infused for a median duration of 18 hours. These observations suggest that dopamine should be used earlier in the treatment of these infants than has previously been recommended.
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