Dexamethasone effect on heart rate variability in preterm infants on mechanical ventilation

BACKGROUND: Dexamethasone is administered to some preterm infants with chronic lung disease to facilitate weaning from mechanical ventilation. Heart rate characteristics (HRC), including heart rate variability (HRV), may be impacted by glucocorticoids and may predict extubation readiness. A commercially available monitor developed for sepsis detection continuously calculates HRV and an HRC index, which are inversely related.
OBJECTIVES: Determine the impact of dexamethasone on HRV and the HRC index, in relation to extubation success.
METHODS: We identified 109 preterm infants who received dexamethasone while on mechanical ventilation and had HRC index monitoring data available. Average hourly HRV and HRC index were compared the day before and the day after initiation of dexamethasone in three groups: infants who remained on mechanical ventilation, those who were successfully extubated, and those who were extubated and required reintubation in < 3 days.
RESULTS: There was a significant increase in HRV and decrease in the HRC index the day after dexamethasone was started (HRV 16.2±0.5 vs 27.6±1.1 ms; HRC index 1.51±0.11 vs. 0.79±0.06 mean SE, p < 0.001). The 63 infants who were extubated within a day of starting dexamethasone had significantly higher HRV compared to those who remained on mechanical ventilation. There was no difference in HRV or its change with dexamethasone in the 45 infants who remained successfully extubated compared to the 18 infants who required reintubation within 3 days.
CONCLUSION: Dexamethasone improves HRV and lowers the HRC index in preterm infants with chronic lung disease on mechanical ventilation.    


*Corresponding Author: 

Corrie J. Alonzo, Department of Pediatrics Box 800386, University of Virginia Health System, Hospital Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA. Tel.: +1 970 580 3640; Fax: +1 434 243 0649; E-mail: