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Taken from abc.net.au.
Posted Fri Feb 1, 2008 12:00pm AEDT
A group of US researchers say giving a woman an infusion of Epsom salts when she goes into premature labor can help protect her baby from cerebral palsy.
Dr John Thorp, a professor of obstetrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says magnesium sulfate, popularly known as Epsom salts, cut the rate of cerebral palsy in half.
"We have a cheap, widely available treatment already in hand that cuts in half the risk of babies being born with an extremely disabling disorder," Dr Thorp said in a statement.
"And virtually every delivery room in the United States is already stocked with magnesium sulfate solutions that are given to pregnant women during childbirth for other reasons."
Dr Alan Fleischman, medical director of the birth defect charity March of Dimes, is more cautious.
"I think it is an important study," he said.
But he says that more study is needed to understand how the treatment works, and that the children were not protected from more subtle brain damage that affected intellectual and cognitive function.
Dr Thorp's team presented their findings to a meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Dallas.
They gave either magnesium sulfate or a placebo to 224 women going into early labor or with ruptured membranes.
The women's pregnancies were at between 24 to 31 weeks - a full-term pregnancy goes 40 weeks.
Babies born as prematurely as that can suffer brain damage and other problems including cerebral palsy, a range of conditions that affect control of movement and posture.
Did not prevent deaths
The magnesium did not prevent any deaths among the premature babies, but 4.2 per cent of the babies born to women given magnesium developed cerebral palsy, versus 7.3 per cent of those born to women who got the placebo.
The researchers followed the infants that were born for up to two years.
Dr Thorp's team says it is not clear how the magnesium works, but it may stabilise the blood vessels, prevent the damage caused by having oxygen cut off and also help prevent immune system damage to the brain.