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Epsom 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

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