New Hope for Preemies

Premature babies benefit from steroids

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Babies born very prematurely come with a host of complications and developmental problems, and are at high risk for death and long term impairments.

Steroids, however, are providing new ways to improve these odds for preemies.

Giving antenatal corticosteroids to extremely preterm infants, born between 22 and 25 weeks of gestation and weighing less than two pounds, has been shown to significantly reduce death and such complications as cerebral palsy, poor motor skills and lower intelligence.

"Ask your doctor about steroids for preemies."

Wally Carlo, M.D., director of the University of Alabama's Division of Neonatology, conducted a study that collected data on babies born between January 1993 and January 2009. These babies were born at between 22 and 25 weeks gestation, weighing between one and two pounds, at 23 academic medical centers around the U.S.

Dr. Carlo wanted to determine if the steroids worked as well in early premature babies, even long term, as they have been shown to do in babies born at 26 weeks or more.

Two shots of antenatal corticosteroids have been previously recommended for women in premature labor as early as 24 weeks, to help mature the lungs and other organs in the baby. But there was no data before this study on its effect for earlier gestation births.

“We wanted to study the smallest premature babies because this is a very large population of infants, but the practice of giving antenatal corticosteroids to women at these gestational ages differs from physician to physician," Carlo said.

Results showed that mortality was decreased by more than 33 percent, and neuro-developmental impairment was decreased more than 20 percent, when the steroid was given to earlier premature babies.

“It seems that extremely premature infants, from 22 to 25 weeks, can respond as well as infants that are more mature. We also found that using the antenatal corticosteroids did not increase the infection rate for the mothers," said Carlo.

The steroid intervention is also low-cost, around $25 for two shots, and can give even the earliest preemies a chance to survive and thrive. Findings will be published in the upcoming edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 6, 2011
Last Updated:
December 10, 2011