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Studies show that cooling therapy can help treat birth asphyxia

One of the most common causes of birth injury is birth asphyxia, which can lead to mental and physical disabilities early or later in a child's life. Studies show that out of every 1,000 births, between one and five involve birth asphyxia, the main danger of which is a lack of oxygen to the infant's brain.

Parents in Pennsylvania will be interested to know that doctors have begun using a cooling therapy to reduce the adverse effects of birth asphyxia. The timeframe to start treatment is very small, however, and a failure to diagnose could have catastrophic consequences.

In many cases, birth asphyxia results when the placenta has ceased providing the necessary oxygen and nourishment to the infant. The resulting condition often goes unnoticed until after the birth.

If a baby is diagnosed with birth asphyxia, the cooling therapy -- or hypothermia -- has to begin within six hours. The treatment usually lasts another 72 hours, during which the baby lies in an incubator that lowers the child's body temperature more than four degrees.

Brain cells quickly begin to die without oxygen, and the cooling treatment has been shown to prevent damage by slowing the body's functions and allowing brain cells to be saved. After the treatment, the child then has to be slowly warmed, which can also be a risky process.

Many hospitals lack the equipment and medical knowledge to use cooling to treat birth asphyxia, and many babies treated with cooling therapy still suffer serious injuries or don't survive. Still, a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that cooling therapy lowered the risk of disability and death by 15 percent, and a 2012 study said that risks were reduced by 18 percent.

Parents who are expecting a child may want to speak with their doctor about preventing and treating a possible birth injury, just as parents whose child has suffered such an injury should be aware of the available legal options for getting the proper medical care.

Source: The Buffalo News, "Cooling newborns to save their lives," Henry Davis, Nov. 30, 2013

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