Study Suggests Magnesium Sulfate Reduces Cerebral Palsy Risk In Preterm Infants

Study Suggests Magnesium Sulfate Reduces Cerebral Palsy Risk In Preterm Infants

Aug 27, 2008 3:20 PM

According to a study published in the Aug. 28 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine involving researchers from the University of Utah, the risk for cerebral palsy in preterm infants may be significantly reduced with intravenous magnesium sulfate treatment prior to birth.

During this multi-institutional study led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2,241 women at risk for preterm birth – many of them from Utah – were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or magnesium sulfate. The majority of the women had experienced preterm ruptured membranes prior to labor or delivery. Among those mothers who received active treatment, their babies had a significantly lower rate of all forms of cerebral palsy; 4.2 percent vs. 7.3 percent in the placebo group, and of moderate to severe cerebral palsy, 1.9 percent vs. 3.5 percent in the placebo group.

“Although researchers are not charged with determining standard medical practices, these findings support the notion that in the future, women at high risk for preterm birth, particularly for very premature birth, may commonly receive magnesium sulfate in hopes of decreasing the risk of cerebral palsy in their babies,” says Michael W. Varner, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah and one of the study’s co-investigators.

Magnesium sulfate is routinely administered to prevent seizures in women with preeclampsia and to stop preterm labor, but because it is believed to stabilize blood vessels and protect against damage from oxygen depletion, swelling and inflammation, researchers suspected it could also help babies at risk for preterm birth, a common risk factor for cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is the term given to a group of neurological disorders that limit control of movement, posture and activity. Although the cause is not well understood, cerebral palsy is attributed to brain injury or developmental abnormality during pregnancy, birth or in early childhood. With an estimated 200,000 American children affected, it is a leading cause of childhood disability.

The study’s success in patient recruitment can be attributed to a nationally recognized research collaboration between obstetrician-gynecologists at the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare. This partnership gives researchers the opportunity to offer study participation to the majority of high-risk pregnancies in the region. Many national researchers have called upon this network for assistance in gathering participants for related studies.

“Utah is very unique in its collaboration efforts between academic and private hospitals and physicians,” Varner says, “and the efforts of those involved were executed nicely with regard to this study.”

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