A new study has found a simple way to reduce the risk of premature babies being born with cerebral palsy.
Researchers say pregnant women in danger of delivering their babies preterm can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy by an infusion of magnesium sulfate just before delivery.
They say in pregnant women at high risk for preterm birth this practice reduced the rate of cerebral palsy in the children born by half.
Dr. John Thorp, co-author of the new study says this is one of the most promising breakthroughs in the management of high-risk pregnancies in more than 30 years.
Dr. Thorp, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says magnesium sulfate, is better known as Epsom salt and every delivery room is already stocked with magnesium sulfate solutions that are given to pregnant women during childbirth for other reasons.
Dr. Thorp says the study shows a cheap, widely available treatment already that cuts in half the risk of babies being born with an extremely disabling disorder and is a tremendously exciting development.
The study which took place at 20 sites across the United States, involved 2,241 women who had been diagnosed at high risk for giving birth prematurely, between 24 and 31 weeks into their pregnancies.
When delivery appeared imminent the women were an intravenous infusion of magnesium sulfate solution or an identically appearing placebo. The infusions were given over a period of 20-30 minutes at a rate of 6 grams followed by a maintenance infusion of 2 grams per hour.
The researchers were looking to see if magnesium sulfate reduced the rate of stillbirth or infant death, or reduced the rate of moderate or severe cerebral palsy at or beyond the age of 2 years.
They found that while the risk of death did not differ significantly between the magnesium sulfate and placebo groups, moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred about half as often in the magnesium sulfate group than in the placebo group.
An earlier study conducted in Australia, which included more than 3,000 women, reached similar results and in view of both studies, the researchers say the use of magnesium sulfate to prevent cerebral palsy in the children of women at imminent risk of early preterm delivery "should be strongly considered."
They say doctors who specialize in managing the pregnancies of women at high risk for preterm birth could begin using the magnesium sulfate treatment immediately as approval for the treatment from the Food and Drug Administration is not required.
Dr. Thorp says the U.S. and Australian studies are the largest, most rigorously conducted and pertinent trials to date and are unlikely to be replicated.