Treating newborn drug withdrawal by getting back to nature

Treating newborn drug withdrawal by getting back to nature

I wish it were otherwise, but in my practice, I have seen a growing number of pregnancies complicated by signs of substance withdrawal in newborn babies. Print, online, and broadcast news sources include regular reports on the “opioid crisis”. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicate that in 2016-17, about 1 in 200 newborns in Canada were affected by symptoms of drug withdrawal after birth. As this represents an average, there are no doubt some centres with much higher rates, while others may seem far lower depending on local usage patterns. Wherever you practice, if you care for newborns, you must learn how to treat this.

If you ask a physician in training how best to treat such conditions, their first response is often to use a medication such as morphine, thinking that it is best to treat an opioid withdrawal with the same class of drug. While this may be true, it is important to note that beginning with something much simpler, if not more natural, may reap tremendous benefits.

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) released a new practice point this week, Managing infants born to mothers who have used opioids during pregnancy. While the document addresses the use of medical treatment, it highlights something far more important. Think of managing such pregnancies as a pyramid, with substance avoidance (the best strategy) on the bottom. The next level would be to manage newborns by keeping mothers and babies together. The top of the pyramid—that is, the fewest number of cases—would be treating these babies with medications.

For many families, avoidance is just not possible. Whether mothers use opioids due to addiction or chronic pain, it is simply unsafe to quit cold turkey. In October 2017, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SOGC) recommended against opioid detoxification in pregnancy because of the high risk of relapse. We should commend pregnant women who take responsibility for their health and seek care to stabilize on medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to manage their symptoms. After delivery, though, taking these babies and placing them on medications in a special care nursery should be a last resort.

Getting back to nature

Medications do work, but giving them means admitting babies to special care nurseries. This forced separation from families and, in particular, their mothers, actually leads to longer stays in hospital. Skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding contribute to better bonding between mother and child and have been associated with shortened hospital stays. In our centre, we have seen great success with many infants managed for up to seven days on the post-partum ward with their families. While this may seem like a long time, it is less than half of the average 15-day stay when babies are admitted to a special care unit.

Provided a mother is HIV-negative, the benefits of breastfeeding may go well beyond the bonding and closeness associated between mother and newborn. As most of these women continue to use a substance to ease their own withdrawal or pain, the small quantities of opioid that enter the breastmilk are in turn passed on to the newborn, which helps ease them through this transitional period in their life.

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. In the case of caring for newborns exposed to opioids in pregnancy, getting back to nature and promoting skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding is just what this doctor ordered.

Can’t intubate to give surfactant? Maybe try this!

Can’t intubate to give surfactant? Maybe try this!

Intubation is not an easy skill to maintain with the declining opportunities that exist as we move more and more to supporting neonates with CPAP.  In the tertiary centres this is true and even more so in rural centres or non academic sites where the number of deliveries are lower and the number of infants born before 37 weeks gestational age even smaller.  If you are a practitioner working in such a centre you may relate to the following scenario.  A woman comes in unexpectedly at 33 weeks gestational age and is in active labour.  She is assessed and found to be 8 cm and is too far along to transport.  The provider calls for support but there will be an estimated two hours for a team to arrive to retrieve the infant who is about to be born.  The baby is born 30 minutes later and develops significant respiratory distress.  There is a t-piece resuscitator available but despite application the baby needs 40% oxygen and continues to work hard to breathe.  A call is made to the transport team who asks if you can intubate and give surfactant.  Your reply is that you haven’t intubated in quite some time and aren’t sure if you can do it.  It is in this scenario that the following strategy might be helpful.

Surfactant Administration Through and Laryngeal Mask Airway (LMA)

Use of an LMA has been taught for years in NRP now as a good choice to support ventilation when one can’t intubate.  The device is easy enough to insert and given that it has a central lumen through which gases are exchanged it provides a means by which surfactant could be instilled through a catheter placed down the lumen of the device.  Roberts KD et al published an interesting unmasked but randomized study on this topic Laryngeal Mask Airway for Surfactant Administration in Neonates: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Due to size limitations (ELBWs are too small to use this in using LMA devices) the eligible infants included those from 28 0/7 to 35 6/7 weeks and ≥1250 g.  The infants needed to all be on CPAP +6 first and then fell into one of two treatment groups based on the following inclusion criteria: age ≤36 hours,
(FiO2) 0.30-0.40 for ≥30 minutes (target SpO2 88% and 92%), and chest radiograph and clinical presentation consistent with RDS.
Exclusion criteria included prior mechanical ventilation or surfactant administration, major congenital anomalies, abnormality of the airway, respiratory distress because of an etiology other than RDS, or an Apgar score <5 at 5 minutes of age.

Procedure & Primary Outcome

After the LMA was placed a y-connector was attached to the proximal end.  On one side a CO2 detector was placed and then a bag valve mask in order to provide manual breaths and confirm placement over the airway.  The other port was used to advance a catheter and administer curosurf in 2 mL aliquots.  Prior to and then at the conclusion of the procedure the stomach contents were aspirated and the amount of surfactant determined to provide an estimate of how much surfactant was delivered to the lungs.  The primary outcome was treatment failure necessitating intubation and mechanical ventilation in the first 7 days of life.  Treatment failure was defined upfront and required 2 of the following: (1) FiO2 >0.40 for >30
minutes (to maintain SpO2 between 88% and 92%), (2) PCO2 >65 mmHg on arterial or capillary blood gas or >70 on venous blood gas, or (3) pH <7.22 or 1 of the following: (1)  recurrent or severe apnea, (2) hemodynamic instability requiring pressors, (3) repeat surfactant dose, or (4) deemed necessary by medical provider.

Did it work?

It actually did. Of the 103 patients enrolled (50 LMA and 53 control) 38% required intubation in the LMA group vs 64% in the control arm.  The authors did not reach their desired enrollment based on their power calculation but that is ok given that they found a difference.  What is really interesting is that they found a difference in the clinical end point despite many infants clearly not receiving a full dose of surfactant as measured by gastric aspirate. Roughly 25% of the infants were found to have not received any surfactant, 20% had >50% of the dose in the stomach and the other 50+% had < 10% of the dose in the stomach meaning that the majority was in fact deposited in the lungs.  I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that among the secondary outcomes the duration length of mechanical ventilation did not differ between two groups which I presume occurred due to the babies needing intubation being similar.  If you needed it you needed it so to speak. Further evidence though of the effectiveness of the therapy was that the average FiO2 30 minutes after being treated was significantly lower in the group with the LMA treatment 27 vs 35%.  What would have been interesting to see is if you excluded the patients who received little or no surfactant, how did the ones treated with intratracheal deposition of the dose fare?  One nice thing to see though was the lack of harm as evidenced by no increased rate of pneumothorax, prolonged ventilation or higher oxygen.

Should we do this routinely?

There was a 26% reduction in intubations in te LMA group which if we take this as the absolute risk reduction means that for every 4 patients treated with an LMA surfactant approach, one patient will avoid intubation.  That is pretty darn good!  If we also take into account that in the real world, if we thought that little of the surfactant entered the lung we would reapply the mask and try the treatment again.  Even if we didn’t do it right away we might do it hours later.

In a tertiary care centre, this approach may not be needed as a primary method.  If you fail to intubate though for surfactant this might well be a safe approach to try while waiting for a more definitive airway.  Importantly this won’t help you below 28 weeks or 1250g as the LMA is too small but with smaller LMAs might this be possible.  Stay tuned as I suspect this is not the last we will hear of this strategy!

An Old Drug Finds A New  Home In The Treatment of BPD.

An Old Drug Finds A New Home In The Treatment of BPD.

What is old is new again as the saying goes.  I continue to hope that at some point in my lifetime a “cure” will be found for BPD and is likely to centre around preventing the disease from occurring.  Will it be the artificial placenta that will allow this feat to be accomplished or something else?  Until that day we unfortunately are stuck with having to treat the condition once it is developing and hope that we can minimize the damage.  When one thinks of treating BPD we typically think of postnatal steroids.  Although the risk of adverse neurodevelopmental outcome is reduced with more modern approaches to use, such as with the DART protocol,most practitioners would prefer to avoid using them at all if possible.  We know from previous research that a significant contributor to the development of BPD is inflammation.  As science advanced, the specific culprits for this inflammatory cascade were identified and leukotrienes in particular were identified in tracheal lavage fluid from infants with severe lung disease.  The question then arises as to whether or not one could ameliorate the risk of severe lung disease by halting at least a component of the inflammatory cascade leading to lung damage.

Leukotriene Antagonists

In our unit, we have tried using the drug monteleukast, an inhibitor of leukotrienes in several patients.  With a small sample it is difficult to determine exactly whether this has had the desired effect but in general has been utilized when “all hope is lost”.  The patient has severe disease already and is stuck on high frequency ventilation and may have already had a trial of postnatal steroids.  It really is surprising that with the identification of leukotriene involvement over twenty years ago it took a team in 2014 to publish the only clinical paper on this topic.  A German team published Leukotriene receptor blockade as a life-saving treatment in severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia.in 2014 and to date as far as I can see remains the only paper using this strategy. Given that we are all looking for ways to reduce BPD and this is the only such paper out there I thought you might want to see what they found.  Would this be worth trying in your own unit?  Well, read on and see what you think!

Who was included?

This study had an unusual design that will no doubt make statistical purists cringe but here is what they did.  The target population for the intervention were patients with “life threatening BPD”.  That is, in the opinion of the attending Neonatologist the patient had a greater than 50% likelihood of dying and also had to meet the following criteria; born at < 32 weeks GA, <1500g and had to be ventilated at 28 days.  The authors sought a blinded RCT design but the Research Ethics Board refused due to the risk of the drug being low and the patients having such a high likelihood of death.  The argument in essence was if the patients were likely to die and this drug might benefit them it was unethical to deny them the drug.  The authors attempted to enroll all eligible patients but wound up with 11 treated and 11 controls.  The controls were patients either with a contraindication to the drug or were parents who consented to be included in the study as controls but didn’t want the drug.  Therapy was started for all between 28 – 45 days of age and continued for a wide range of durations (111+/-53 days in the study group).  Lastly, the authors derived a score of illness severity that was used empirically:

PSC = FiO2 X support + medications

– support was equal to 2.5 for a ventilator. 1.5 for CPAP and 1 for nasal cannulae or an oxygen hood

– medications were equal to 0.2 for steroids, 0.1 for diruetics or inhaled steroids, 0.05 for methylxanthines or intermittent diruetics.

Did it make a difference?

The study was very small and each patient who received the medication was matched with one that did not receive treatment.  Matching was based on GA, BW and the PSC with matching done less than 48 hours after enrollment in an attempt to match the severity of illness most importantly.

First off survival in the groups were notably different.  A marked improvement in outcome was noted in the two groups.  Of the deaths in the control group, the causes were all pulmonary and cardiac failure, although three patients died with a diagnosis of systemic inflammatory response syndrome.  That is quite interesting given that monteleukast is an anti-inflammatory medication and none of the patients in the treatment arm experienced this diagnosis.

The second point of interest is the trend in the illness severity score over time.  The time points in the figure are time 1 (start of study), time 2 (4 weeks of treatment), time 3 (end of treatment).  These patients improved much more over time than the ones who did not receive treatment.

The Grain of Salt

As exciting as the results are, we need to acknowledge a couple things.  The study is small and with that the risk of the results appearing to be real but in actual fact there being no effect is not minimal.  As the authors knew who was receiving monteleukast it is possible that they treated the kids differently in the unit.  If you believed that the medication would work or moreover wanted it to work, did you pay more attention on rounds and during a 24 hour period to those infants?  Did the babies get more blood gases and tighter control of ventilation with less damage to the lungs over time?  There are many reasons why these patients could have been different including earlier attempts to extubate.  The fact is though the PSC scores do show that the babies indeed improved more over time so I wouldn’t write it off entirely that they did in fact benefit.  The diagnosis of SIRS is a tough one to make in a newborn and I worry a little that knowing the babies didn’t receive an anti-inflammatory drug they were “given” that diagnosis.

Would I use it in spite of these faults? Yes.  We have used it in such cases but I can’t say for sure that it has worked.  If it does, the effect is not immediate and we are left once we start it not knowing how long to treat.  As the authors here say though, the therapeutic risk is low with a possibly large benefit.  I doubt it is harmful so the question we are left asking is whether it is right for you to try in your unit?  As always perhaps a larger study will be done to look at this again with a blinded RCT structure as the believers won’t show up I suspect without one!

Resuscitating before 22 weeks. It’s happening.

Resuscitating before 22 weeks. It’s happening.

Given that today is world prematurity day  it seems fitting to talk about prematurity at the absolute extreme of it.

It has been some time since as a regional program we came to accept that we would offer resuscitation to preterm infants born as early as 23 weeks gestational age.  This is perhaps a little later in the game that other centers but it took time to digest the idea that the rate of intact survival was high enough to warrant a trial of resuscitation.  This of course is not a unilateral decision but rather a decision arrived at after consultation with the family and interprofessional team.  To be sure it is not an easy one.  Other centers have argued that resuscitation should be offered to those infants as young as 22 weeks gestational age and data now exists due to enough centres doing so to provide families with some guidance as to expected survival rates and importantly the likelihood of disability. This topic has been covered previously in /2015/09/25/winnipeg-hospital-about-to-start-resuscitating-infants-at-23-weeks/. Why cover this topic again?  Well an article on CNN might have something to do with it.

Resuscitating Below 22 weeks

This week as I was perusing the news I came across a rather shocking article on CNN. Born before 22 weeks, ‘most premature’ baby is now thrivingThe article tells the tale of a baby delivered at 21 weeks and 4 days that now as a three year old is reaching appropriate milestones without any significant impairments.  It is a story that is filled with inspiration and so I am not mistaken I am delighted for this child and their family that this outcome has occurred.  When the lay press latches onto stories like this there is no doubt a great deal of sensationalism to them and in turn that gathers a lot of attention.  This in turn is a great thing for media.

A Few Caveats Though

With the exception of pregnancies conceived through IVF the best dating we have is only good to about +/- 5 days when an early first trimester ultrasound is performed or the date of the last menstrual period is fairly certain.  A baby though who is born at 21 weeks + 4 days may in fact be 22 +3 days or even more depending on when the dating was done (second trimester worse).  Let’s not take away though from the outcome being this good even at 22 weeks.  That is a pretty perfect outcome for this family but the point is that this baby may in fact be older than 21 weeks.

Secondly, there are millions of babies born each year in North America.  Some of these infants are born at 22 weeks.  How do they fare overall?  From the paper by Rysavy et al from 2015 the results are as follows.

If you look at the overall rate of survival it is on an average of 5.1%.  If you take a look though at those infants in whom resuscitation is provided that number increases to a mean of 23%.  Intact survival is 9% overall.  The odds aren’t great but they are there and I suspect the infant in the article is one of those babies.  Flipping the argument though to the glass is half empty, 91% of infants born at 22 weeks by best estimate who are offered resuscitation will have a moderate or severe disability or die. I am not saying what one should do in this situation but depending on how a family processes the data they will either see the 110 chance of intact survival as a good thing or a 9/10 chance of death or disability as a very bad thing.  What a family chooses though is anyone’s best guess.

Should we resuscitate below 22 weeks if the family wishes?

I guess in the end this really depends on a couple things.  First off, how certain are the dates?  If there is any degree of uncertainty then perhaps the answer is yes.  If the dates are firm then I at least believe there is a barrier at which futility is reached.  Perhaps this isn’t at 21 weeks as some patients may indeed be older but think about what you would offer if a family presented at 20 weeks and wanted everything done.  What if it were 19 weeks?  I suspect the point of futility for all lies somewhere between 19-21 weeks.

As I prepare to attend the annual meeting in Ottawa tomorrow for the Fetus and Newborn Committee I think it is prudent to point out just how difficult all of this is.  The current statement on Counselling and management for anticipated extremely preterm birth I think hits on many of these issues.  The statement is the product on not only the think tank that exists on this committee but was the product of a national consultation.  I know I may be biased since I sit on the committee but I do believe it really hits the mark.

Should we be thinking about resuscitating at 21 weeks?  For me the answer is one clouded by a whole host of variables and not one that can be easily answered here.  What I do think though is that the answer in the future may be a yes provided such infants can be put onto an artificial placenta.  Even getting a few more weeks of growth before aerating those lungs is necessary may make all the difference.  The NICUs of tomorrow certainly may look quite different than they do now.

Looking for a place to happen

Looking for a place to happen

This past week, Canada lost a rock icon in Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.  My late high school, university and medical school days seem to have him and the band forever enmeshed in memories from that time.  In honour of his passing I thought it suitable to pay tribute to him by using one of the band’s famous song titles as the title for this post.  No this isn’t a post about the band but rather a controversial ventilation strategy.  While CPAP has been around for some time to support our infants after extubation, a new method using high frequency nasal ventilation has arrived and just doesn’t want to go away.  Depending on your viewpoint, maybe it should or maybe it is worth a closer look.  I have written about the modality before in High Frequency Nasal Ventilation: What Are We Waiting For?  While it remains a promising technology questions still remain as to whether it actually delivers as promised.

Better CO2 elimination?

For those who have used a high frequency oscillator, you would know that it does a marvelous job of removing CO2 from the lungs.  If it does so well when using an endotracheal tube, why wouldn’t it do just as good a job when used in a non-invasive way?   That is the hypothesis that a group of German Neonatologists put forth in their paper this month entitled Non-invasive high-frequency oscillatory ventilation in preterm infants: a randomised controlled crossover trial.  In this relatively small study of 26 preterm infants who were all less than 32 weeks at delivery, babies following extubation or less invasive surfactant application were randomized to either receive nHFOV then CPAP for four hours each or the reverse order for the same duration.  The primary outcome here was reduction in pCO2 with the goal of seeking a difference of 5% or more in favour of nHFOV.  Based on their power calculation they thought they would need 24 infants total and therefore exceeded that number in their enrollment.

The babies in both arms were a bit different which may have confounded the results.  The group randomized to CPAP first were larger (mean BW 1083 vs 814g), and there was a much greater proportion of males in the CPAP group.  As well, the group randomized first to CPAP had higher baseline O2 saturation of 95% compared to 92% in the nHFOV group.  Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there was a much higher rate of capillary blood sampling instead of arterial in the CPAP first group (38% vs 15%).  In all cases the numbers are small but when looking for such a small difference in pCO2 and the above mentioned factors tipping the scales one way or the other in terms of illness severity and accuracy of measurement it does give one reason to pause when looking at the results.

The Results

No difference was found in the mean pCO2 from the two groups.  As expected, pCO2 obtained from capillary blood gases nearly met significance for being higher than arterial samples (50 vs 47; p=0.052).  A similar rate of babies had to drop out of the study (3 on the nCPAP first and 2 on the nHFOV side).

In the end should we really be surprised by the results?  I do believe that in the right baby who is about to fail nCPAP a trial of nHFOV may indeed work.  By what means I really don’t understand.  Is it the fact that the mean airway pressure is generally set higher than on nCPAP in some studies?  Could it be the oscillatory vibration being a kind of noxious stimulus that prevents apneic events through irritation of the infant?

While traditional invasive HFOV does a marvelous job of clearing out CO2 I have to wonder how the presence of secretions and a nasopharynx that the oscillatory wave has to avoid (almost like a magic wave that takes a 90 degree turn and then moves down the airway) allows much of any of the wave to reach the distal alveoli.  It would be similar to what we know of inhaled steroids being deposited 90 or so percent in the oral cavity and pharynx.  There is just a lot of “stuff” in the way from the nostril to the alveolus.

This leads me to my conclusion that if it is pCO2 you are trying to lower, I wouldn’t expect any miracles with nHFOV.  Is it totally useless? I don’t think so but for now as a respiratory modality I think for the time being it will continue to be “looking for a place to happen”

Can a chest x-ray predict the future?

Can a chest x-ray predict the future?

If you work in Neonatology then chances are you have ordered or assisted with obtaining many chest x-rays in your time.  If you look at home many chest x-rays some of our patients get, especially the ones who are with us the longest it can be in the hundreds. I am happy to say the tide though is changing as we move more and more to using other imaging modalities such as ultrasound to replace some instances in which we would have ordered a chest x-ray.  This has been covered before on this site a few times; see Point of Care Ultrasound in the NICU, Reducing Radiation Exposure in Neonates: Replacing Radiographs With Bedside Ultrasound. and Point of Care Ultrasound: Changing Practice For The Better in NICU.This post though is about something altogether different.

If you do a test then know what you will do with the result before you order it.

If there is one thing I tend to harp on with students it is to think about every test you do before you order it.  If the result is positive how will this help you and if negative what does it tell you as well.  In essence the question is how will this change your current management. If you really can’t think of a good answer to that question then perhaps you should spare the infant the poke or radiation exposure depending on what is being investigated.  When it comes to the baby born before 30 weeks these infants are the ones with the highest risk of developing chronic lung disease.  So many x-rays are done through their course in hospital but usually in response to an event such as an increase in oxygen requirements or a new tube with a position that needs to be identified.  This is all reactionary but what if you could do one x-ray and take action based on the result in a prospective fashion?

What an x-ray at 7 days may tell you

How many times have you caught yourself looking at an x-ray and saying out loud “looks like evolving chronic lung disease”.  It turns out that Kim et al in their publication Interstitial pneumonia pattern on day 7 chest radiograph predicts bronchopulmonary dysplasia in preterm infants.believe that we can maybe do something proactively with such information.

In this study they looked retrospectively at 336 preterm infants weighing less than 1500g and less than 32 weeks at birth.  Armed with the knowledge that many infants who have an early abnormal x-ray early in life who go on to develop BPD, this group decided to test the hypothesis that an x-ray demonstrating a pneumonia like pattern at day 7 of life predicts development of BPD.  The patterns they were looking at are demonstrated in this figure from the paper.  Essentially what the authors noted was that having the worst pattern of the lot predicted the development of later BPD.  The odds ratio was 4.0 with a confidence interval of 1.1 – 14.4 for this marker of BPD.  Moreover, birthweight below 1000g, gestational age < 28 weeks and need for invasive ventilation at 7 days were also linked to the development of the interstitial pneumonia pattern.

What do we do with such information?

I suppose the paper tells us something that we have really already known for awhile.  Bad lungs early on predict bad lungs at a later date and in particular at 36 weeks giving a diagnosis of BPD.  What this study adds if anything is that one can tell quite early whether they are destined to develop this condition or not.  The issue then is what to do with such information.  The authors suggest that by knowing the x-ray findings this early we can do something about it to perhaps modify the course.  What exactly is that though?  I guess it is possible that we can use steroids postnatally in this cohort and target such infants as this. I am not sure how far ahead this would get us though as if I had to guess I would say that these are the same infants that more often than not are current recipients of dexamethasone.

Would another dose of surfactant help?  The evidence for late surfactant isn’t so hot itself so that isn’t likely to offer much in the way of benefit either.

In the end the truth is I am not sure if knowing concretely that a patient will develop BPD really offers much in the way of options to modify the outcome at this point.  Having said that the future may well bring the use of stem cells for the treatment of BPD and that is where I think such information might truly be helpful.  Perhaps a screening x-ray at 7 days might help us choose in the future which babies should receive stem cell therapy (should it be proven to work) and which should not.  I am proud to say I had a chance to work with a pioneer in this field of research who may one day cure BPD.  Dr. Thebaud has written many papers of the subject and if you are looking for recent review here is one Stem cell biology and regenerative medicine for neonatal lung diseases.Do I think that this one paper is going to help us eradicate BPD?  I do not but one day this strategy in combination with work such as Dr. Thebaud is doing may lead us to talk about BPD at some point using phrases like “remember when we used to see bad BPD”.  One can only hope.