Adrenocortical insufficiency and refractory hypotension in preterm infants

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Preterm, very low birthweight (VLBW) infants are prone to life-threatening hypotension secondary to hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis immaturity, resulting in adrenocortical insufficiency. Clinical presentations of inotrope-resistant refractory hypotension are usually evident, but interpretation of serum cortisol may pose much difficulty to front-line neonatologists. This review examines the salient pathophysiology of adrenocortical insufficiency in the immediate postnatal period, characterises its endocrinological abnormalities, and describes the typical and variant clinical presentations. Based on existing evidence, a practical scheme is proposed for logical interpretation of circulating cortisol levels and management of inotrope-resistant refractory hypotension in VLBW infants.

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