Hypothermic treatment benefits victims of birth injuries, study says

Doctors in Chicago are responsible for monitoring labors and deliveries in order to prevent harm to mothers and their babies. A lack of oxygen during the birth process can permanently injure or kill an infant.

Neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy occurs when the flow of life-sustaining oxygen and blood through an umbilical cord is interrupted. The occasion of birth injuries caused by a lack of oxygen supply is about one in every 1,000 U.S. births. Although no child should suffer disabling or fatal birth injuries due to medical malpractice, a new study suggests doctors may at the very least be able to limit the damage of these injuries with hypothermic treatment.

The study found that oxygen-starved infants whose bodies were cooled down after birth did better than babies who were not cooled. Researchers found that lowering temperatures slowed metabolism and damage, while giving an infant’s body the opportunity to recover.

More than 200 children born with oxygen deprivation were studied. The hypothermic treatments were conducted within six hours of an infant’s birth. Babies’ bodies were cooled to 92 degrees Fahrenheit and warmed to regular body temperatures after three days.

Forty-one percent of cooled infants died or were severely disabled. The percentage of deaths and permanent disabilities among untreated babies was 60 percent. Researchers then re-evaluated the children at ages 6 and 7 to check the severity of the brain damage each child had suffered from his or her birth injuries. Only 47 percent of children who underwent cooling treatments after birth had IQs lower than 70. Sixty-two percent of children who did not undergo cooling treatments had IQs lower than 70.

Researchers concluded that hypothermic treatment improved outcomes for brain damaged infants by 15 percent. Study authors are encouraged by the news because it means that long-term effects of the cooling treatment are not detrimental to children and may be used more commonly in hospitals to help minimize the damages of birth injuries.

Source: HealthDay, “‘Cooling’ Helps Oxygen-Deprived Newborns: Study,” Steven Reinberg, May 30, 2012

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