Supporting preterm cardiovascular function
Preterm infants are at higher risk of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Inadequate cerebral oxygen delivery resulting from poor cardiovascular function is likely to be a significant contributor to preterm brain injury. In this context, improved support of cardiovascular function is integral to improving preterm outcomes. Many of the treatments used to support preterm cardiovascular function are based on adult physiology and may not be appropriate for the unique physiology of the preterm infant. The preterm heart is structurally immature with reduced contractility and low cardiac output. However, there is limited evidence that inotropic support with dopamine and/or dobutamine is effective in preterm babies. Hypovolemia may also contribute to poor preterm cardiovascular function; there is evidence that capillary leakage results in considerable loss of plasma from the circulation of newborn preterm babies. In addition, the vasoconstrictor response to acute stimuli does not develop until quite late in gestation and is limited in the preterm infant. This may lead to inappropriate vasodilatation adding to functional hypovolemia. The first line treatment for hypotension in preterm infants is volume expansion with crystalloid solutions, but this has limited efficacy in the preterm infant. More effective methods of volume expansion are required. Effective support of preterm cardiovascular function requires better understanding of preterm cardiovascular physiology so that treatments can target mechanisms that are sufficiently mature to respond.