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Old 01-31-2008, 12:56 PM
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Default Magnesium May Reduce Risk of Cerebal Palsy

Premature babies are at high risk for cerebral palsy, an often devastating movement disorder caused by brain damage before, during or after birth, says study co-author John Thorp, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About one-third of cerebral palsy cases are caused by early preterm birth, he says.

Giving magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, could save many children from the condition, Thorp says. Doctors regularly use the drug to halt contractions when women go into labor very early. The drug is found in virtually every labor and delivery department and costs just pennies a dose, he says.

In Thorp's study, presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine annual meeting in Dallas, doctors focused on 2,241 women whose water broke very early — between the 24th and 31st weeks of pregnancy. A full-term delivery occurs after at least 37 weeks.

Doctors randomly assigned some women to get intravenous magnesium sulfate and others to get a placebo, a study design that's considered the "gold standard" of medical testing.

About 1.9% of women on magnesium sulfate had babies with moderate or severe cerebral palsy, compared to 3.5% of women who didn't get the drug, the study shows. The drug caused no serious side effects, although more women taking magnesium sulfate felt flushed or sweaty. Some reported temporarily blurred vision.

"This is a real breakthrough," says Thorp, noting that his study is especially powerful because it confirms the findings of a 2003 Australian study. "These are children who have their whole lives in front of them."
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