Newborn brain injuries can result in permanent disabilities and health problems, including cerebral palsy. There are several potential causes of brain injury in babies, from maternal infections that impact the brain’s development to physical damage caused during a difficult labor. Strokes that cut off oxygen to the brain is another cause and one that is now easier to identify and treat, thanks to researchers at Stanford University.
Perinatal Stroke and Brain Injury
Mini strokes in fetuses and newborns are not uncommon. They are often minor but can be serious and cause lasting brain damage and disabilities. A perinatal stroke occurs at any time between 22 weeks of pregnancy and a month of age. During this time, a baby is at risk of developing permanent conditions like cerebral palsy due to a stroke.
Perinatal strokes are easy to miss because a baby does not always exhibit symptoms. If the stroke causes seizures, it is more likely to be detected. Even when a stroke is diagnosed, determining the extent of the damage to the brain is problematic. But being able to pinpoint the damage is essential to predicting outcome and beginning interventions and treatments.
Stanford Researchers Improve Diagnostic Technology
The current tool used to assess perinatal strokes is ultrasound. This technology uses sound waves that bounce off soft tissue to image the brain. Because newborns have soft spots in their skulls, ultrasound waves can be aimed through these areas to assess the brain.
The technique, until recently, was limited to imaging larger structures in the brain. Researchers at Stanford developed a new way to use the same ultrasound machine to get a clearer picture of a baby’s brain. They figured out how to eliminate noise to be able to see the blood flow in individual blood vessels.
This is important because it allows doctors to see where blood has been interrupted after a stroke, the part of the brain affected, and the severity of the damage. They can use scans of healthy infant brains and compare these to the images of a baby after a stroke. The information helps physicians better predict how the stroke will impact the baby over the long-term and how the treatment should be applied.
The researchers hope that their new technology will help individual babies and their families understand what to expect. It should also inform treatment and allow for more targeted interventions and better outcomes. But the researchers also hope that their method can be used for ongoing research to help develop better treatments for infant brain injuries.
Strokes in newborns can be small and not cause lasting damage, but they may also result in significant brain injury. Newer technologies are needed to assess the consequences of these common strokes and help babies get better treatments to avoid or minimize disabilities like cerebral palsy.