The aim of this study was to determine whether prematurity affects heart rate responses during spontaneous arousals. Polygraphic recordings were performed during undisturbed daytime naps in 35 preterm infants (gestational age at birth 32 ± 2 weeks) and 35 term infants. Arousals were scored according to the recommendations of the International Paediatric Work Group on Arousals and categorized either as cortical arousals (CA) or subcortical arousals (SCA). Heart rate (HR) and respiratory frequency (RF) were measured during arousal and during the 10-s and 30-s period before and after arousal. Changes in HR and RF were expressed as the percentage of modification normalized for the 30-s period preceding arousal. Altogether, 122 arousals in preterm infants (66 CA, 56 SCA) and 105 arousals in term infants (57 CA, 48 SCA) were scored. Mean duration of the arousal period was 9 ± 4 s and 8 ± 3 s, respectively. In term infants, a significant increase in HR during arousal could be shown (11.3 ± 8.2%; p < 0.001), whereas this increase was significantly greater during CA compared to SCA (13.7 ± 6.2% versus 8.4 ± 9.4%; p < 0.001). In contrast, HR decreased during arousal in preterm neonates (- 3.9 ± 19.3%; p < 0.05). These findings suggest that cardiovascular control seems to be maturationally delayed in preterm infants, which may contribute to their increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). © 2006 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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