If the placenta or umbilical cord are torn or squeezed before or during childbirth, or if the uterus ruptures, many infants suffer from a severe form of oxygen deprivation known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE, that can cause disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, or death.
A new study by a nationwide network of researchers, including Richard A. Ehrenkranz, M.D., professor of pediatrics and of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, shows that a simple therapy that lowers newborns’ brain temperature can reduce disability and death after HIE.
As reported in the October 13 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers placed babies with HIE on water-cooled blankets that lowered their body temperature to 92.3 degrees within 6 hours after birth. Only 44 percent of the infants who received the cooling treatment developed disabilities or died, compared to 62 percent of a control group.
The cooling therapy “slows down the injury process caused by birth asphyxia,” says Ehrenkranz. “Less injury means a better out-come and fewer cases of cerebral palsy and other complications.”