Perhaps it is time to change the way we use caffeine in the NICU.

Perhaps it is time to change the way we use caffeine in the NICU.

This has been a question that has befuddled Neonatologists for years.  Get ten of us in a room and you will get a variety of responses ranging from (talking about caffeine base) 2.5 mg/kg/day to 10 mg/kg/day.  We will espouse all of our reasons and question the issue of safety at higher doses but in the end do we really know?  As I was speaking to a colleague in Calgary yesterday we talked about how convinced we are of our current management strategies but how we both recognize that half of what we think we know today we will be questioning in 10 years.  So how convinced should we really be about caffeine?

Even the Cochrane Review Suggests There Is Something Amiss

Back in 2010 the Cochrane Collaboration examining 6 trials on caffeine for treating apnea of prematurity concluded “Methylxanthine is effective in reducing the number of apnoeic attacks and the use of mechanical ventilation in the two to seven days after starting treatment.” Notice the bolded section.  Two to seven days.  Interesting that we don’t see the effect last in perpetuity.  Why might that be?  Do babies become resistant with time or is there a change in the way these infants metabolize the drug such that levels in the bloodstream drop after that time point.  It is almost certainly the latter and in the last 7 years have we really seen any response to this finding?  I would say no for the most part although I don’t work in your unit so hard to say for sure. At least where I practice we pick a dose somewhere between 2.5-5 mg/kg/day and give a load of 10 mg/kg when we start the drug.  From time to time we give a miniload of 5 mg/kg and may or may not increase the dose of maintenance based on the number of apneic events the babies are having.  What if we could be proactive instead of reactive though.  Do the babies need to have multiple events before we act or could we prevent the events from happening at all?

Proactive Treatment With Caffeine

We have known that caffeine clearance increases with postnatal age.  The half-life of the drug shortens from about a week at the earliest gestational ages to 2-2.5 days by term equivalent age.  For those infants who are older such as 32 weeks and above we expect them to be off caffeine (if they need it) within 2-3 weeks so I am not really talking about them but what about the babies born earlier than that or certainly MUCH earlier at 23 and 24 weeks who will be on caffeine possibly till term.  Should one size (dose) fit all?  No it really shouldn’t and some crafty researchers led by Koch G have published a paper that demonstrates why entitled Caffeine Citrate Dosing Adjustments to Assure Stable Caffeine Concentrations in Preterm Neonates.

In this paper the authors armed with knowledge of the half life of caffeine at different gestational ages were able to calculate the clearance of the drug at different postnatal ages to demonstrate in a model of a 28 week male infant weighing 1150g. The authors further took into account predicted weight changes and were able to calculate what the expected caffeine levels would be in the fictional infant at various time points.  The target caffeine levels for this patient were a trough level of 15 -20 mg/L which are the currently acceptable ranges in the literature.  The testing was first done using a standard load of 10 mg/kg (base) followed by 2.5 mg/kg/d (base) and demonstrated levels which yielded the following graph over time. What this demonstrates is that if the dose is unchanged over the first 7 weeks, this hypothetical infant will only achieve effective concentrations for the first week.  Interesting isn’t it that the Cochrane review found clinical effect over the first 2-7 days? What if you were to double the dose to really “hit” the infant with a good dose of caffeine from the start and maintain at that level based on their weight gain as shown next. Well, you will get what you are hoping for and keep the trough level above 15 mg/L but you will hit 30 mg/L that some have said is too high and can lead to adverse effects (ever seen SVT with these high doses? I have).  Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears could there be a dosing strategy that might be just right?  The authors put in another model based on the knowledge of caffeine clearance over time and suggested a strategy in which after the first week the adjusted maintenance doses would be 3 mg/kg/day and 3.5 mg/kg/day in the third to fourth weeks and lastly 4 mg/kg/d in the 5th to 8th week.  Using that dosing schedule the model produced this curve. As you can see, the infant would have a therapeutic target without reaching levels above 30 mg/L and potential for side effects. As many of you read this however you may ask the obvious question. Each of us have seen infants who require higher doses than this to rid themselves of significant apnea and escape reintubation.  Given that this is a mathematical model it assumes that this fictional infant will respond beautifully to a trough level of 15 to 20 mg/L but some will not. Even in the curve shown it is clear that there is some room to go higher in the dosing as the curve is just touching 20 mg/L.

A Suggestion For The Future

What grabbed my attention here is the possibility that we could take a proactive rather than reactive approach to these infants.  Once a small baby is controlled on their dose of caffeine whether it is 2.5, 3, 5 or even 6 mg/kg/d of caffeine should we wait for more events to occur and then react by increasing caffeine?  What if we are too late to respond and the patient is intubated.  What effect does this have on the developing lung, what about the brain that is subjected to bradycardic events with resultant drops in cardiac output and cerebral perfusion.  Perhaps the solution is to work with our pharmacists and plan to increase dosing at several time points in the infants journey through the NICU even if they aren’t showing symptoms yet.  No doubt this is a change in approach at least for the unit I work in but one that should start with a conversation!

Hydrocortisone after birth may benefit the smallest preemies the most!

Hydrocortisone after birth may benefit the smallest preemies the most!

This must be one of my favourite topics as I have been following the story of early hydrocortisone to reduce BPD for quite some time. It becomes even more enticing when I have met the authors of the studies previously  and can see how passionate they are about the possibilities. The PREMILOC study was covered on my site twice now, with the first post being A Shocking Change in Position. Postnatal steroids for ALL microprems? and the second reviewing the 22 month outcome afterwards /2017/05/07/early-hydrocortisone-short-term-gain-without-long-term-pain/.

The intervention here was that within 24 hours of birth babies born between 24-27 weeks gestational age were randomized to receive placebo or hydrocortisone 1 mg/kg/d divided q12h for one week followed by 0.5 mg/kg/d for three days. The primary outcome was rate of survival without BPD at 36 weeks PMA. The finding was a positive one with a 9% reduction in this outcome with the use of this strategy. Following these results were the two year follow-up which reported no evidence of harm but the planned analysis by gestational age groupings of 24-25 and 26-27 weeks was not reported at that time but it has just been released this month.

Is there a benefit?

Of the original cohort the authors are to be commended here as they were able to follow-up 93% of all infants studied at a mean age of 22 months. The methods of assessing their neurological status have been discussed previously but essentially comprised standardized questionnaires for parents, assessment tools and physical examinations.

Let’s start off with what they didn’t find. There was no difference between those who received placebo vs hydrocortisone in the 26-27 week group but where it perhaps matters most there was. The infants born at 24-25 weeks are certainly some of our highest risk infants in the NICU. It is in this group that the use of hydrocortisone translated into a statistically significant reduction in the rate of neurodevelopmental impairment. The Global Neurological Assessement scores demonstrated a significant improvement in the hydrocortisone group with a p value of 0.02. Specifically moderate to severe disability was noted in 18% compared to 2% in the group receiving hydrocortisone.They did not find a difference in the neurological exam but that may reflect the lack of physical abnormalities with cognitive deficit remaining.  It could also be explained perhaps by the physical examination not being sensitive enough to capture subtle differences.


Why might this be?

Adding an anti-inflammatory agent into the early phase of a preemies life might spare the brain from white matter damage. Inflammation is well known to inflict injury upon the developing brain and other organs (think BPD, ROP) so dampening these factors in the first ten days of life could bring about such results via a mechanism such as that. When you look at the original findings of the study though, a couple other factors also pop up that likely contribute to these findings as well. Infants in the hydrocortisone group had a statistical reduction in the rate of BPD and PDA ligations. Both of these outcomes have been independently linked to adverse neurodevelopmental outcome so it stands to reason that reducing each of these outcomes in the most vulnerable infants could have a benefit.

In fact when you add everything up, is there much reason not to try this approach? Ten days of hydrocortisone has now been shown to reduce BPD, decrease PDA ligations and importantly in the most vulnerable of our infants improve their developmental outcome. I think with this information at our fingertips it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore this approach. Do I think this will become adopted widely? I suspect there will be those who take the Cochrane approach to this and will ask for more well designed RCTs to be done in order to replicate these results or at least confirm a direction of effect which can then be studied as part of a systematic review. There will be those early adopters though who may well take this on. It will be interesting to see as these centres in turn report their before and after comparisons in the literature what the real world impact of this approach might be.

Stay tuned as I am sure this is not the last we will hear on this topic!

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!

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.