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Cooling May Reduce Brain Lesions in Newborns

Treatment after oxygen deprivation accounts for better motor skills later, study suggests,,

THURSDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Babies who are deprived of oxygen at birth often go on to have lifetime disabilities, but research has shown that cooling infants can help prevent problems.

Now, a new study reports that the cooling actually reduces the number of brain lesions in the babies.

Oxygen starvation at birth can cause a condition called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which can be fatal. Oxygen starvation also accounts for about 20 percent of cerebral palsy cases.

An earlier study found that chilling infants who suffer from oxygen deprivation can help reduce rates of cerebral palsy and improve their motor skills later in life. In the new study, reported online Nov. 5 and in the January issue of The Lancet Neurology, researchers investigated whether MRI scans would reveal fewer cerebral lesions in infants who were cooled.

That turned out to be the case. After reviewing MRI brain scans of 131 infants, they found 30 to 40 percent fewer lesions in areas of the brain where neurological development occurs. The infants who underwent cooling were three times more likely than those who didn't to have normal scans.

The scans also allowed doctors to predict with more than an 80 percent degree of certainty whether the infants would die or be disabled by the time they were 18 months old. The accuracy rate was 84 percent for the infants who were cooled and 81 percent for those who were not.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about cerebral palsy.

--Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: The Lancet Neurology, news release, Nov. 4, 2009

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