Salts May Protect Premature Babies
Preliminary data suggests that Epsom
salts given intravenously to women about to deliver extremely
premature babies help reduce brain damage and death among the
infants, Australian researchers reported.
Children born before 30 weeks'
gestation -- about two months early -- run a higher risk of death
and brain problems, including cerebral palsy, said the report
published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Caroline Crowther, a physician
at the University of Adelaide, and colleagues said they tested
the use of Epsom salts -- magnesium sulfate -- at 16 hospitals
in Australia and New Zealand involving 1,062 women about to deliver
very premature babies.
The program ran from 1996 to 2000
with a follow-up of surviving children at 2 years of age. Women
in the study were given either Epsom salts or a placebo.
Children of the women given the
salts had a 17 percent reduced risk of death and cerebral palsy,
the study concluded.
The apparent protective mechanism
involved is not clear, the study said, but it appears the salts
may help prevent bleeding in the premature infant brain, a problem
that can cause cerebral palsy.
"The potential clinically important
improvement in pediatric outcomes from magnesium sulfate given
to women immediately before very pre-term birth for neuroprotection
urgently needs confirmation in further trials," the study said.
"Widespread use of prenatal magnesium
sulfate as a neuroprotective agent cannot be recommended solely
on the basis of the current study. Although minor adverse effects
are common in women receiving magnesium sulfate, there do not
appear to be any serious harmful effects for the women or their
children," it added.
The study was funded by various
Australian health organizations.
In an editorial commenting on the
study carried in the same issue, Jon Tyson and Larry Gilstrap,
physicians at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston,
called the findings encouraging.
"A true reduction of 17 percent
in death and in cerebral palsy would have great clinical and public
health importance," they said. "The authors are appropriately
cautious in recommending that routine prenatal use of magnesium
sulfate as a neuroprotective agent for pre-term infants should
await confirmation in other large trials."
Reference Source 89