To examine the antenatal and early neonatal correlates of low Apgar scores (<3 and <6 at 1 and 5 minutes) in preterm newborns (23-34 weeks' gestation).
The use of Apgar scoring for premature newborns remains widespread, despite controversy regarding its reliability as a measure of morbidity and mortality in the neonatal period.
A cohort of 852 preterm newborns born during a 34-month period between 1984 and 1987 was studied. Newborns were stratified into 2 groups by gestational age (23-28 weeks and 29-34 weeks), and data were analyzed, controlling for gestational age in single weeks.
Two academic and 1 community hospital, which together accounted for 83% of all preterm births in a tri-county area of central New Jersey during the study period.
All premature newborns (birth weight <2000 g and gestational age <35 weeks) born in the participating hospitals during the study period were evaluated.
Main Outcome Measures
Antecedents included maternal illness during pregnancy, maternal complications of labor and delivery, and fetal heart rate abnormalities during labor and delivery. Consequences included delivery room resuscitation, abnormal physical findings, diagnoses, and therapeutic interventions in the first 6 to 8 hours of life.
Premature newborns with low Apgar scores received more cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the delivery room and in the first 6 to 8 hours of neonatal intensive care. Mortality was significantly increased among newborns with low Apgar scores (54% vs 26% in the 23- to 28-week stratum, 30% vs 6% in the 29- to 34-week stratum). Newborns with low Apgar scores in the 29- to 34-week stratum more often required intubation, positive pressure ventilation, and umbilical vessel catheterization. Newborns with low Apgar scores had higher rates of bradycardia, pneumothoraces, acidosis, and increased oxygen requirement during the first 6 to 8 hours of life. Maternal illness, complications of labor and delivery, and fetal heart rate decelerations did not correlate with subsequent Apgar scores of newborns. The presence of severe bradycardia (<90/min) and fetal heart rate accelerations correlated with low Apgar scores in the 29- to 34-week group.
Low Apgar scores are associated with increased neonatal morbidity and mortality in preterm newborns. Antenatal maternal history and pregnancy complications are not clearly associated with low Apgar scores. Therefore, the Apgar score is a useful tool in assessing neonatal short-term prognosis and the need for intensive care among preterm newborns.