Background. Infants developing bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) show decreased cortisol response to adrenocorticotropic hormone. A pilot study of low-dose hydrocortisone therapy for prophylaxis of early adrenal insufficiency showed improved survival without BPD at 36 weeks’ postmenstrual age, particularly in infants exposed to histologic chorioamnionitis.

Methods. Mechanically ventilated infants with birth weights of 500 to 999 g were enrolled into this multicenter, randomized, masked trial between 12 and 48 hours of life. Patients received placebo or hydrocortisone, 1 mg/kg per day for 12 days, then 0.5 mg/kg per day for 3 days. BPD at 36 weeks’ postmenstrual age was defined clinically (receiving supplemental oxygen) and physiologically (supplemental oxygen required for O2 saturation ≥90%).

Results. Patient enrollment was stopped at 360 patients because of an increase in spontaneous gastrointestinal perforation in the hydrocortisone-treated group. Survival without BPD was similar, defined clinically or physiologically, as were mortality, head circumference, and weight at 36 weeks. For patients exposed to histologic chorioamnionitis (n = 149), hydrocortisone treatment significantly decreased mortality and increased survival without BPD, defined clinically or physiologically. After treatment, cortisol values and response to adrenocorticotropic hormone were similar between groups. Hydrocortisone-treated infants receiving indomethacin had more gastrointestinal perforations than placebo-treated infants receiving indomethacin, suggesting an interactive effect.

Conclusions. Prophylaxis of early adrenal insufficiency did not improve survival without BPD in the overall study population; however, treatment of chorioamnionitis-exposed infants significantly decreased mortality and improved survival without BPD. Low-dose hydrocortisone therapy did not suppress adrenal function or compromise short-term growth. The combination of indomethacin and hydrocortisone should be avoided.

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