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Endocr Dev. 2011;20:96-105. doi: 10.1159/000321228. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Long-term outcome of prenatal dexamethasone treatment of 21-hydroxylase deficiency.


Prenatal treatment of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) with dexamethasone (DEX) has been in use since the mid- 1980s. Its effectiveness for reducing virilization of external genitalia is well established. DEX treatment has to be started in the 6th-7th postmenstrual week and continued until the results of the prenatal diagnosis are available. Hence, the dilemma is that 7 out of 8 fetuses (boys and unaffected girls) are treated unnecessarily. Girls with CAH are treated until term. Accumulating evidence from animal studies and follow-up data has raised concerns regarding the long-term consequences of this controversial treatment. We have previously reported that direct neuropsychological assessment of children exposed to DEX and controls show normal full-scale IQ, learning and longterm memory. However, the children exposed to DEX during the first trimester had an impaired verbal working memory which was significantly associated with low self-perceived scholastic competence. In addition, the children showed increased self-rated social anxiety. The same cohort of children answered questions concerning friends, activities and gender-related behaviors. The results indicate less masculine and more neutral behavior in short-term DEX-exposed boys. These findings indicate that long-term follow-ups of this group of patients are of extreme importance and that future DEX treatment of CAH may be questioned. We therefore encourage additional studies on larger cohorts in order to draw more decisive conclusions about the safety of the treatment. Until then, it is important that the parents are thoroughly informed about the potential risks and uncertainties, as well as the benefits, of this treatment.

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