Health Team

Study: Epsom salt injection may help prevent Cerebral Palsy

UNC Hospitals was part of a 20-hospital study of the effects of Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, when given to women in imminent danger of preterm birth.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Every year in the United States, there are about 8,000 babies and infants diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Premature birth is a major risk factor for the neurological disorder.

UNC Hospitals was part of a 20-center study of the effects of giving Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, to women who were in imminent danger of preterm birth.

Dana Scott, 36, and husband Randolph had been trying for three years to have a baby. Her high blood pressure and diabetes complicated matters.

“I knew going into it, it would be a struggle trying to conceive and stay pregnant and to have a healthy baby,” Dana said.

Their daughter, Eva Brielle, was born six weeks premature, at 5 pounds 6 ounces.

A few days before delivery at UNC Hospitals, Dana received intravenous infusions of magnesium sulfate to protect Eva from developing cerebral palsy.

With cerebral palsy, the brain has difficulty communicating with the muscles. Without the magnesium sulfate infusion before birth, about 10 in 100 preterm babies will develop the disorder by the age of 2.

“In the group exposed to magnesium, that number was about five in 100, so it reduced the risk of cerebral palsy by half," Dr. John Thorp, UNC Hospitals obstetrician, said.

Thorp is a co-author of the magnesium sulfate study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He said the findings were huge in the fight to prevent cerebral palsy.

“I think this is the most exciting thing that's happened in my 25 years as an obstetrician,” he added.

As for little Eva, her future looks bright.

“She's extremely healthy. She had steroid shots to mature her lungs. She's not on a ventilator,” Thorp said.

The Randolphs will never know if Eva might have developed cerebral palsy without the infusion. However, they should be able to go home soon with their dreams of a healthy child fulfilled.

The magnesium sulfate infusion is associated with a slight, but not significant, risk of infant death.

Dana said the only side effects were a warm feeling and a little nausea. The infusion is only suggested for women at imminent risk of preterm birth, and Thorp said the infusion is given at least 12 hours before birth.