NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Steroid Treatment May Improve Outcomes in Preterm Infants

Tiny feet of premature baby cupped by adult hands
Tiny preemie feet

Steroid treatment before birth appears to improve survival and reduce complications among extremely preterm infants, according to a recent NIH study funded by NICHD and NCATS. The study appears in JAMA Network Open.

Antenatal steroid therapy, given to women at risk of preterm delivery, causes the fetal lungs to mature and has been shown to improve survival and reduce complications among infants born from 24 to 34 weeks of pregnancy. However, previous studies of the treatment for infants born between the 22nd and 23rd week—those at greatest risk for death and disability—were inconclusive.

The study was conducted by Dr. Sanjay Chawla at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, and Wayne State University, Detroit, and colleagues at 17 research institutions. 

Of the mothers of the 431 infants in the study, 110 did not receive the steroid betamethasone, 80 received partial treatment (1 dose) and 241 received complete treatment (2 doses 24 hours apart).

Of the infants exposed to complete treatment, 53.9 percent survived until hospital discharge, compared to 37.5 percent with partial treatment and 35.5 percent with no treatment. Compared to infants receiving no treatment, infants exposed to full treatment were 1.95 times more likely to survive and 2.74 times more likely to survive without major complications such as severe bleeding in the brain, severe lung disease, cysts in the brain, severe inflammation of the intestines or abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. 

Study authors concluded that their results provide strong evidence to support giving antenatal steroid therapy to pregnant women at risk for delivery at 22 weeks.

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