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New Study Finds Physicians Can Reduce Risk of Cerebral Palsy

Parents often experience a mix of joy and concern, excitement and terror during the birth of a child. The delivery of the child is a particularly vulnerable time and there are very few events when we put the same degree of trust in the hands of our physicians.

Doctors monitoring labor have a duty to provide a high level of care to both the mother and infant. Unfortunately, if this duty is breached, devastating birth injuries can result. The variation of injuries can range from relatively minor fractured clavicles to an injury that may plague the child for a lifetime like cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that can be caused by a lack of oxygen during delivery. It is the result of damage to the infant's brain and affects movement, muscle tone or posture.

The disease is the result of an abnormality or disruption in brain development, often before the child is born. Mayo Clinic states that fetal strokes, infant infections, traumatic brain injuries or a lack of oxygen due to a difficult labor or delivery can all result in the development of cerebral palsy.

An obstetrician can generally reduce the chance of cerebral palsy resulting from a lack of oxygen due to a difficult labor. An infant's body can compensate for a brief period of depleted oxygen before brain damage occurs. This provides ample time for a physician properly monitoring the delivery to notice the problem and begin intervention as needed.

Various forms of intervention can provide the fetus with needed oxygen. This could include assisting delivery through the use of forceps or even a cesarean section. Providing the infant with oxygen following delivery can also help.

Details of Research

Another factor that increases the risk of developing cerebral palsy is the length of gestation. An infant that is born prematurely is at a greater risk for developing cerebral palsy.

New research found that use of a certain medication may cut the risk of premature infants developing cerebral palsy in half. The key to this reduction is providing the mother magnesium sulfate immediately prior to delivery. The study specifically found success in babies born before 30 weeks. A new ongoing study is analyzing whether similar results are present in babies born after the 30-week mark. Unfortunately, results will take time. The current study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, spanned over six years.

Magnesium sulfate is a medication routinely given to women with preeclampsia to prevent seizures and decrease the risk of preterm labor. There are side effects associated with the medication, including hypertension and low blood pressure. Since both side effects could be potentially life threatening, many doctors hesitate to administer the medication. This, in collaboration with the novelty of the study, explains why use of magnesium sulfate has yet to be readily implemented.

Liability Issues

Both the hospital and practicing physician may be liable for cerebral palsy. Situations that may result in liability include failure of the obstetrician to recognize and treat a fetus, not receiving a sufficient amount of oxygen or failure to properly treat a premature infant.

A hospital could also be held liable if improper hiring techniques were used. A hospital is required to make sufficient inquiries regarding the physician's education and training background. If this was not done, the hospital may be found negligent for allowing the physician to practice and could be liable for any injuries caused by that physician.

Additionally, the obstetrician may be liable under medical malpractice if his or her actions deviated from accepted standards of practice. The physician managing a delivery should:

  • Attend to both mother and fetus during labor
  • Monitor fetal heart rate during delivery
  • Take prompt action if fetal heart rate indicates distress

If these or other commonly accepted practices are not followed, the doctor may have violated his or her duty to the patient.

If your child suffers from cerebral palsy as the result of a doctor's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation to cover medical and rehabilitative costs as well as pain and suffering. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, meaning lifelong aid is likely needed.

Those suffering from this disease may require the use of various medical devices and treatments, including a wheel chair, hearing aids, medication, surgeries and braces. Determining the cause of the disease can be difficult as symptoms can take months or years to manifest. As a result, it is important to seek the counsel of a medical malpractice attorney experienced in birth injury matters to discuss the various expenses associated in the treatment of cerebral palsy and ensure your legal rights and remedies are protected.