March 9, 2011
Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Better care during pregnancy and birth is the main reason behind a staggering 93 per cent plunge in rates of severe cerebral palsy in premature infants, a new study discloses.
"Overall survival has increased trememdously," said Dr. Jan Willem Gorter of the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University, who took part in the study.
"We had a sense this was happening, but you can only find out by doing research."
Two per every 1,000 babies born in Canada develop cerebral palsy, but the rate is said to be as high as 100 per 1,000 births for premature infants.
The team, led by Dr. Inge-Lot van Haastert and Dr. Linda deVries of Wilhelmina Children's Hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands, studied 3,000 babies born between 1990 and 2005.
Their work uncovered a decline in both the cases of cerebral palsy and its severity among premature infants.
Among the surprises: Unlike previous studies, Cesarean section delivery coincided with a lower risk of periventricular leukomalacia, one of the most important causes of CP.
Improved medical care during pregnancy and birth is the chief reason for the drop, said the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Cerebral palsy is a result of brain injury received shortly before, during, or soon after birth.
Researchers found that 2.2 per cent of the infants born between 2002 and 2005 were diagnosed with cerebral palsy, down from 6.5 per cent for those born between 1990 and 1993.
A McMaster-created system, called the Gross Motor Function Classification System, also tracked the drop in severity.
"This system has a huge impact on how we look at children with cerebral palsy," Gorter said. "It looks at what children can do rather than what children could not do."