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Study: Some Preemies May be at Increased Risk for Cerebral Palsy

A new study by researchers in Norway has found a statistically significant association that may indicate that premature and small babies have a greater risk of cerebral palsy if their mothers experience preeclampsia while pregnant. Preeclampsia, an often dangerous pregnancy complication signified by high blood pressure and increased protein in the mother’s urine, is not known to cause cerebral palsy, and this study doesn’t make a direct link. Moreover, it is already known that preemies are particularly vulnerable to the neurological disorder.

Preeclampsia affects between 3 and 5 percent of pregnant women, and the researchers found no indication of an elevated cerebral palsy risk for full-term, normal-size infants whose mothers had experienced preeclampsia.

The researchers searched the Medical Birth Registry of Norway and the Registry of Norway for single births between 1996 and 2006 in that country. The data included more than 616,000 children without cerebral palsy and 849 who had a confirmed diagnosis of the disorder. They then divided the data into births occurring at term, moderately preterm, or between 32 and 36 weeks, and very preterm — at 31 weeks or earlier. Then, they adjusted the data to account for known cerebral palsy risks including the baby’s sex and weight, the mother’s age at delivery, whether she smoked during pregnancy, and whether the child was conceived through in vitro fertilization.

The results indicated that the cerebral palsy risk from preeclampsia was elevated among both moderately preterm and very preterm births, and also in full-term babies who were smaller than usual at birth. Again, the researchers stress that no cause-effect relationship was established, so their recommendation is that doctors become aware of this risk and watch for any indication of cerebral palsy so that early treatment can be affected.

This study addresses risks that may not be fully preventable and do not necessarily indicate medical malpractice. Often, the cause of any particular child’s cerebral palsy is never known. In many cases, however, cerebral palsy can be caused by a doctor’s mistake leading to oxygen deprivation during the birthing process.