Preterm Infants off Positive Pressure Respiratory Support Have a Higher Incidence of Occult Cerebral Hypoxia

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Objective: To use cerebral near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to quantify occult cerebral hypoxia across respiratory support modes in preterm infants. Study design: In this prospective, longitudinal, observational study, infants ≤32 weeks gestation underwent serial pulse oximetry (oxygen saturation [SpO2]) and cerebral NIRS monitoring (4-6 hours per session) following a standardized recording schedule (daily for 2 weeks, every other day for 2 weeks, then weekly until 35 weeks corrected gestational age). Four calculations were made: median cerebral saturation, median cerebral hypoxia burden (proportion of NIRS samples below the hypoxia threshold [<67%]), median systemic saturation, and median systemic hypoxia burden (proportion of SpO2 samples below the desaturation threshold [<85%]). During each recording session, respiratory support mode was noted (room air, low-flow nasal cannula, high-flow nasal cannula, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, continuous positive airway pressure, and invasive ventilation). Results: There were 1013 recording sessions made from 174 infants with a median length of 6.9 hours. Although the systemic (SpO2) hypoxia burden was significantly greater for infants on the highest respiratory support (invasive and noninvasive positive pressure ventilation), the cerebral hypoxia burden was significantly greater during recording sessions made on the lowest respiratory support (8% for room air; 29% for low-flow nasal cannula). Conclusions: Premature infants on the highest levels of respiratory support have less cerebral hypoxia than those on lower respiratory support. These results raise concern about unrecognized cerebral hypoxia during lower acuity periods of neonatal intensive care unit hospitalization and adverse outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113648
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • NIRS
  • longitudinal monitoring
  • neonates
  • pulse oximeter


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