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Low Umbilical Cord pH Tied to Death, Brain Damage

Review reveals 'strong and consistent association'

FRIDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- Babies born with low blood pH in their umbilical cord appear to bear a higher risk for infant death, brain damage and/or childhood cerebral palsy, a review of prior research reveals.

The finding, reported online May 14 in BMJ, stems from an analysis conducted by researchers out of Birmingham Women's Hospital in England.

The authors note that when a baby is deprived of adequate oxygen during delivery -- a condition known as hypoxia -- umbilical cord blood pH drops. (Since normal blood pH indicates that the blood's acid and alkaline gases are balanced, a decrease in pH means the umbilical cord blood is becoming too acidic.)

Although hypoxia is the most common cause of brain damage, particularly among premature and very small babies, researchers previously had not established a clear association between low umbilical cord blood pH and related health complications.

The study team combed through the results of 51 prior studies involving nearly half a million babies, looking for evidence of any such association.

They concluded that there is, in fact, a "strong and consistent association" between low umbilical cord blood pH and serious infant and childhood complications.

The authors, led by Dr. Gemma Malin of Birmingham's department of obstetrics and gynecology, called for greater surveillance of newborns with low umbilical cord pH. They also suggested that more work be done to ascertain whether or not all babies should undergo testing of umbilical cord blood.

More information

For more on umbilical cord blood, visit the National Institutes of Health.

--Alan Mozes

SOURCE: BMJ, May, 14, 2010, news release

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