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Oxygen-deprived newborns respond to 'cooling' treatments

A significant number of birth defects are caused by oxygen deprivation during delivery. A recent study shows that children who were deprived of oxygen and treated with a whole-body cooling fared better than those who were not given the treatment.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or oxygen deprivation, occurs in one of every 1,000 births. Most often it is caused by the umbilical cord wrapping itself around an infant's neck. Essentially, the treatment puts a newborn into a state of hypothermia, which, according to researchers, lowers body temperature and allows the brain to repair itself. Rarely, putting the child in this condition can result in brain damage or death.

Cooling protects a child against brain damage from lack of oxygen and lack of blood flow. The treatment slows down the metabolic process and prevents toxins from causing more damage while the body heals. Newborn patients go through a three day treatment where body is reduced to 92 F and is then slowly warmed again. At age 6 or 7, the children who were cooled at birth had a lower frequency of low IQ due to brain damage. While the IQ difference between children was not significant, the survival difference was.

According to researchers, the risk of death or disability was to children who suffered the most initial brain damage. Researchers acknowledge that cooling is not completely protective, but can be helpful for children who suffer moderate injury. It is practiced throughout the United States and researchers hope that results will continue to be positive for newborns and their families.

Source: US News, "Cooling' helps oxygen-deprived newborns: study," Steven Reinberg, May 30, 2012.