A recent study from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center suggests that nitric oxide treatment may not reduce premature infant mortality rates or avoid other complications in most cases. The study focused on babies that were born at 34 weeks or earlier. The benefits of nitric oxide for near-term infants, born pre-term but after 34 weeks, has been well documented.
Administration of nitric oxide gas is a widespread practice intended to prevent neurological damage, lung problems and death in infants that are born preterm.
The study reviewed a number of trials of the use of the gas in pre-term infants. The initial analysis indicated that there was no improvement in mortality rates or reduction in associated complications. However another analysis did show a small variation in outcomes between babies who received nitric oxide and those who did not. It is unclear whether this variation was clinically significant.
The researchers do not suggest that nitric oxide should never be used in babies born before 34 weeks. Rather, it calls for a careful case by case risk-benefit analysis of the use of the treatment. This is due in part to the small variation which leaves open the door that the treatment may be helpful in some cases.
Unfortunately this study is not able to draw a bright line on the efficacy of the use of nitric oxide for significantly pre-term infants. But it does reinforce the practice of analyzing the unique medical needs of each infant and administering a customized treatment plan rather than a one size fits all approach.
Source: Johns Hopkins Children's Center Hold The Gas? Inhaled Nitric Oxide of No Benefit to Most Premature Babies January 10, 2011