Study: Magnesium helps pre-term babies

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Magnesium administered to a woman in the very early stages of delivering a baby pre-term may lower the risk of her baby being born with cerebral palsy. These results from clinical trials involving women from here in Utah and other states could lead to a new standard for treatment.

Christine Miller was among one of the first groups of mothers to participate in a University of Utah experiment four years ago. While 2,400 babies across the country were in the process of being born very pre-term, on the average of 11 weeks early, their mothers were given intravenous magnesium sulfate or a placebo.

Miller said, "They started it 12 hours after I had gone into the hospital. And they gave me the two bags, and then they started it again as we were delivering her."

Though 4-year-old Sandy may have been at high risk for cerebral palsy, it never happened. Even after Sandy was born, her brain fluid was higher than normal, but there was still no cerebral palsy.

"She did have about a seven percent higher amount of fluid than a baby her age would have had. But it wasn't enough to cause worry," Miller said.

Magnesium sulfate has long been used to treat other pregnancy complications, but this is a first as a possible preventive treatment for cerebral palsy. If magnesium does in fact stabilize vessels and protect against oxygen depletion and inflammation, it may just prevent or dramatically lower the risk of this disabling disease that now afflicts an estimated 200,000 children in this country.

Magnesium sulfate is far from a cure, and it may not work on all mothers all the time, but Dr. Michael Varner says this study, which shows a significant lower rate of all forms of cerebral palsy, will most likely now trigger a change in protocol. "That would be my prediction of where this will go within the next year," he said.

It could be that, going forward, women at high risk for very pre-term, premature births will routinely get magnesium sulfate.

Utah was a major participant in the national study because of a unique research partnership between the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare. Participants came from a wide range of hospitals across the Wasatch Front.


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Ed Yeates


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