Premature birth is a major risk factor for several conditions in a baby, including cerebral palsy (CP). The earlier a viable baby is born, the greater the chances are that they will develop CP. It’s a crucial factor to target for prevention and treatment. Now, researchers have shown that a treatment protocol can effectively prevent the onset of CP in babies born early.
Magnesium Sulfate and Cerebral Palsy
Studies have found that giving injections of magnesium sulfate to women at risk of having premature births can significantly reduce the risk of their baby developing cerebral palsy. The risk can be cut by as much as a third.
Even when babies of mothers treated with magnesium sulfate develop CP, it is often less severe. The simple, inexpensive preventative treatment can prevent many cases of cerebral palsy and reduce its severity.
Magnesium sulfate works because it has neuroprotective effects. Cerebral palsy is a condition that results from brain damage or malformation. A major underlying cause is a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) to the brain, which can occur under the circumstances of many types of birth complications.
Magnesium sulfate is thought to stabilize and protect blood vessels in the brain, which in turn helps keep up the oxygen supply to the brain. The protection likely comes from the substance’s ability to mitigate certain factors that damage blood vessels.
Early Treatment Protocol Tested in the UK
Doctors had previously used magnesium sulfate in mothers with high blood pressure. Now, it is known to be useful in any pregnant woman with risk factors for premature birth. A 2008 study from the U.S. found lower rates of moderate or severe cerebral palsy in babies born to women who had received magnesium sulfate.
Those early positive results led to greater use of the preventative treatment, but it was still not widespread. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK recently published the results of a wide study introducing magnesium sulfate in thousands more women.
Before the study, they reported that only 64% of eligible women received the treatment. With the rollout of the treatment protocol, called PReCePT (Prevention of Cerebral Palsy in Pre-Term Labor), close to 90% of women were able to receive the treatment.
As reported in the new study, the injections cost very little money and save millions of dollars in later medical costs for children with disabilities. The program is slated to continue and to spread to other areas of the country.
An injection of magnesium sulfate is a simple, inexpensive solution to a big problem. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common disabling conditions of childhood. While for some, it can be mild, for others, it is debilitating. This simple treatment cannot prevent all cases of CP, but it significantly reduces the risk and gives many children better lives and futures.