Immature infants are at increased risk of death and disability, often related to haemorrhagic and ischaemic brain damage. Two controlled trials have suggested that a policy of prophylactic ethamsylate may reduce this damage. The aim of the trial reported here was to assess the effects of such a policy in respect of death, disability, and the use of health service resources up to 2 years of age. Short term findings are reported here. Three hundred and thirty four immature (< or = 32 weeks' gestation) infants were recruited into the trial within four hours of birth from four centres in France and six in Greece. Almost all 165 infants allocated to the ethamsylate group received the drug, compared with one of the 169 infants in the control group. By about 3 months of age the trial groups were similar in terms of death (20% in the two groups), any diagnosis of periventricular or intraventricular haemorrhage (35% in the ethamsylate v 37% in the control group), or major cerebral abnormality assessed by ultrasound (13% v 12%). The trial provides little evidence to support the use of ethamsylate for routine prophylaxis. The confidence intervals are wide, however, and so these results alone cannot rule out a clinically useful benefit or a harmful effect. A follow up study of the surviving children at the age of 2 years is in progress.
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