Exposure to antenatal corticosteroids and reduced respiratory sinus arrhythmia in adult survivors of extremely low birth weight
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Purpose/aim: Antenatal corticosteroid (ACS) therapy has dramatically increased survival rates among extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants. However, the long-term effects of ACS on autonomic nervous system function have not been explored. Using the world's oldest longitudinally followed cohort of ELBW infants we compared respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) among ELBW survivors whose mothers received ACS (ELBW-S), those who did not (ELBW-NS) and normal birth weight (NBW) controls in their 20 and 30 s. Methods: Resting electrocardiogram (ECG) was recorded from ELBW-S (n = 28), ELBW-NS (n = 36), and matched NBW controls (n = 79) at 22-26 and 29-36 years. Resting RSA was compared across groups via analyses of covariance (ANCOVA), adjusting for sex, medication use, postnatal steroid exposure and the presence of chronic health conditions. RSA was also compared across assessments for each group. Results: At 29-36 years, resting RSA in ELBW-S was significantly lower than in NBW controls. RSA in the ELBW-NS group was intermediate between ELBW-S and NBW groups. Although the ELBW-S group also showed nominally reduced RSA compared to NBW controls at the 22-26-year visit, this difference was not statistically significant. Conclusions: ELBW survivors exposed to ACS had lower RSA than NBW controls during their 30 s, suggestive of a decline in parasympathetic input to heart. ELBW survivors who received ACS may be particularly vulnerable to cardiovascular problems in later life.