The adrenocortical response to stress was studied longitudinally in 10 ill preterm infants using measurements of cortisol and 170H-progesterone concentrations in filter paper blood spots. Mean cortisol and 170H-progesterone concentrations reached a peak of 2200 nmol/l and 65 nmol/l, respectively, between the third and fifth days of life. These concentrations far exceeded those observed in older children and adults subjected to stress as a result of surgery. Further pulses of endogenous cortisol production of 4000 nmol/l or more occurred in association with clinical complications such as intraventricular haemorrhage. These results indicate that infants undergoing intensive care are unduly stressed. Consideration should be given to providing enough sedation and appropriate analgesia for ill preterm infants during painful procedures such as insertion of venous cannulae and arterial puncture.
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