A randomised controlled trial of theophylline versus face-mask continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) treatment for recurrent apnoea of immaturity was carried out in 32 infants of 25 to 32 weeks' gestation. Continuous recording of electrocardiogram and impedence pneumogram added objective assessment to the nurses' observations for 11 courses of treatment. The CPAP group had more adverse perinatal factors but the frequency of apnoeic attacks before treatment was comparable. Infants given theophylline had a greater reduction in the incidence of prolonged apnoeic attacks, and this difference persisted after allowing for the effect of perinatal complications. Continuous recordings showed a greater reduction in episodes of bradycardia of less than or equal to 80/minute with theophylline. Five of 18 infants given theophylline needed intermittent positive pressure ventilation for apnoea compared with 12 of 14 given CPAP. The poor response in 17 of 32 infants suggests a need for a more effective method of preventing or treating apnoea in very immature babies, in whom adverse perinatal factors often coexist.
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