BACKGROUND: Surviving preterm born children, postnatally exposed to high doses of dexamethasone, show an increased risk of neurodevelopmental impairments. Regarding treatment with low doses of dexamethasone, no data exist on outcomes at school age.
AIM: To assess the functional outcome at school age of preterm-born children treated with low-dose dexamethasone.
STUDY DESIGN: In this cohort study, twenty-seven very preterm-born infants treated with dexamethasone from eight days after birth, underwent neuropsychological assessments at age 6-13 years. Their scores were compared with those of the norm population, and scores on total IQ and motor functioning also with those of a preterm reference group, using one-sample-chi-square and student's t-tests.
RESULTS: Compared with the norm population, performance of dexamethasone-treated children was poorer, particularly in the motor domain (mean z-score - 1.81). Dexamethasone-treated children also had lower scores on IQ (-0.29 to -1.12), verbal memory (-0.41 to -0.56), attention (-0.90 to -1.28), and word generation (-0.75). Their parents reported behavioral problems more often. Compared with preterm peers, motor skills remained poor, but total IQs were similar. Adjustment for bronchopulmonary dysplasia did not change our results, because all surviving children had bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
CONCLUSIONS: At school age, the prevalence of adverse motor, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes of preterm-born children treated with low-dose dexamethasone is increased. This could be the consequence of either dexamethasone or BPD.